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Full text of "The best season on record : (selected and republished from "The field")"

BY CAPTAIM PENNELL ELMHIRST 



Tenth] 



Routledge's Railway !_iLcaif 



[Issue. 



ROWLANDS' ARTICLES 

For the Hair, Complexion, and Teeth, are the PUREST & BEST. 




QDONTO 



A pure, non-gritty tooth 
powder ; it whitens the 
teeth, prevents decay and 
sweetens the breath ; is 
more efficacious than pastes or washes. 2/S. 

preserves and 
beautifies the 
hair, and pre- 
vents it fall- 



MACASSAR OIL 

ing off or turning grey, is the best Brilliantine for 
ladies' and children's hair, being less greasy and 
drying than ordinary Brilliantine, and can be had in 
a golden colour for fair hair. Sizes, 3/6, 7/-, 10/6, 
equal to four small. 



KALYDOR 



is a most soothing, healing, 
and refreshing milk for 
the face, hands, and arms. 
It prevents and removes 
Freckles, Tan, Sunburn, Redness and Roughness of 
the skin, soothes and heals all Irritation, Chaps, Chilblains, Cutaneous Eruptions, 
etc., and produces a beautiful and delicate complexion. Bottles, 2/3 and 4/6. 

effectually dyes red or grey hair a permanent 
brown or black. 4/- 

Fl i 1^0 Ml A •*■ V?- Te toilet powder in three tints, White, Eose, and Cream for 
bUiXUlMlAi ladies of a Brunette complexion and those who do not like white 
powder. Boxes, 1/-, large boxes, 2/6. Ask Chemists for ROWLAND'S ARTICLES, 
20, Hatton Gakden, London, and avoid spurious imitations. 



ESSENCE OF TYRE 



READ THIS FACT. 

"94, Commercial Road, Peckham, July I2th, 1889. 

" Dear Sir, — I am a poor hand at expressing my feelings on paper, but I should like 
to thank you, for your lozenges have done wonders ior me in relieving my terrible cough. 
Since I had the operation of ' Tracheotomy ' (the same as the late Empercrof Germany, 
and unlike him, thank God, I am s'ill alive and getting on well) performed at St. Bar- 
tholomew's Hospital for abduct, or paralysis of the vocal chords, no one could possibly 
have had a more violent cough ; indeed, it was so bad at times that it quite exhausted me. 
The mucus also, which was very copious and hard, has been softened, and I have been 
able to get rid of it without difficulty. " I am, Sir, yours truly, 

"Mr. T. Keating. "J. Hill." 

MEDICAL *JOTE. 

The above speaks for itself. From strict inquiry it appears that the benefit from using 
Keating's Cough Lozenges is understated. The operation was a specially severe one, 
and was performed by the specialist, Dr. H. T. Butlin, of St. Bartho'omew's Hospital. 
Since the operation, the only means of relief is the use of these Lozenges. So successful 
are they that one affords immediate benefit, although from the nature of the case the 
throat irritation is intense. Mr. Hill kindly allows any reference to be made to him. 

THE UTTERLY UNRIVALLED REMEDY 

FOR 

COUGHS, HOA RSENESS, AND THRO AT TROUBLES, 

"KEATING'S COUGH LOZENGES " are sold everywhere, in Tins, 1/1$ and 2/9 each. 

Free by Post, 15 Stamps. 



THOMAS KEATING, Chemist, London. 



Tenth] 



nouneuge s naiiway Library Advertiser. 



[Issue. 




ROBERT W WOODRUFF 
FIBRARY 



Thoughts, like Snowflakes on some far-off Mountain Side, go on Accumulating till 
some great Truth is loosened, and Falls like an Avalanche on the Waiting World. 

At present our lawgivers do not gee that the 
responsibilities of thoroughly qualified 
l'loinb.rs are frequently more Important 
than a Medical Practitioner's. 

I M w°A T ^ lfI ^7 < l ALL 1SAVIHO HOMK- 
A What Health Resort, what Watering Place, 
what Climate in the World could show results of 
Preventible Death like these of the power of 
Sanitation? IGNORANCE OF SANITARY 
SCIENCE, direct and iudirect, Costs Threefold 
the amount of Poor-Rate for the Country gene- 
rally. " He had given as models of sanitation of 
!1 constructed and well-kept prisons, 
; who came in without well, developed 
3t good liven either, the death-rate did 
IEEE IN 1,000. In Stafford County 
i-rate had, during the last ten years, 
less than one in every thousand — 
the death-rate of adult outsiders " 
Lddress by E. CHADWICK, C.B , 
•y Condition of England. 

, PURE AIB. 

rER OP VITIATED AIR. 

laws. When Black Death massacred Hun- 
ounted responsible for their slau|?nter."— 

> of blood is more or less poisoned. There 
sonous blood ; not a point but must have 
ly ; it removes foetid or poisonous matter 
ays nervous excitement, depression, and 
f ruit Salt.'* It is pleasant, coolhitf, re- 
Beping the blood pure and free from disease. 

When attacked with influenza or 
rm room, well ventilated by a good 
VEGETABLE MOTO " as occasion 
11 pass away. Asa Preservative of 
k freely. Use the greatest care to 

LIPF. — Late hours, fagged, un- 
bod, alcoholic drinks, etc.— ENO'S 
res foetid or poisonous matter— the 
allays nervous excitement, depres- 
ics proper condition. Use ENO'S 
d invigorating. You cannot over- 
'in disease. 

derangement and Indigestion, fre- 
)n the 14th of April I purchased a 
i time, and it had an effect that I 
) or less since the year 1841 from 
ew years. The least thing would 
much disturbed. Strange to say, 
nly ceased, and have not since re- 
ceived, I have recommended it to 
2 time I feel it my duty to state the 




TRUTH." 



5 V 

v.„„, „! nuiuu juu cm mase wnatever use you please. 

" I am, dear Sir, yours respectfully, 

T H LIFE C & E I OP SUCCESS.-ST.EELTNG HONESTY OF PURPOSE , WITHOUT IT 
* „ a ^ ~^?\ M £ new ."\ v .ention is brought before the public, and commands 
»v , f™ ■ ^ ° f "^"^le imitations are immediately introduced by the unscrupulous 
^nfrinee P ur,o S „ Wnl"^ closel r <»°»Bl. <* deceive the 'public, and ye* not so exactly a 8 
!Snldnn?f»^.,f* n S?W». exercise an ingenuity that, employed in an original channel, 
could not fail to secure reputation and profit."— Adams. ' 



uri.""*™ eaCh Bottle ' and see that the Capsule is marked ENO'S "FRUIT 
kALT. Hithont tt you ham been imposed on by worthiest imitations. Sold by all Chemists. 
Uirections in Sixteen Languages how to prevent Disease. Protection in everv Country. 

Prepared only at Eno s •■ Fruit Salt " Works, London, S.E., by J. C. Eno s Patent 



Tenth] 



Routledge's 



[Issue* 



MELLIN'S FOOD 







FOR 

INFANTS 



AND 

INVALIDS. 



MASTER MILLAR, aged 12 months. 



"31, Harwood Square, 
"N.W- 

"Mrs. Millar's little boy — 
taken the day lie ivas a year eld 
— brought vp on MELLIN'S 
FOOD till then:' 



MELLIN'S FOOD BISCUITS 

[Manufactured by Carr if Co., Carliilt, specially for O. UTellin). 

For Children after Weaning, the Aged, and Dyspeptic. Digestive, Nourishing, Sustaining. 

Price 21- and 3/6 per Tin. 



MELLIN'S LACTO GLYCOSE or MILK FOOD 

Simply dissolved in warm water is recommended for use when fresh cow's milk disagrees o>r 
cannot be obtained. Price 2/- and 3/- per Bottle. 



SHAKESPEARIAN WISDOM ON THE FEEDINC AND REARING OF INFANTS. 

A pamphlet of quotations from S1:aTcespeare and portraits of beautiful children, together 
with testimonials, which are of the highest interest to all mothers, to be had with samples, 
tree by post, on application to — 

G. MELLIN, Marlboro' Works, Peckham, S.E. 



r*\ A**/\ a 



THE BEST SEASON 



ON RECORD. 



ROUTLEDGE'S SPORTING NOVELS. 

— 'sS&fer- — 
Crown Sva. Picture Boards. 

A PINK WEDDINQ. By R. Mounteney- 

Jephson. 
BLAIR ATHOL. By Blinkhoolie. 
BEATEN ON THE POST. By J. P. 

Wheeldon. 
THE TALE OF A HOESE. By the Author 

of " Blair Athol." 
LIFE OF JOHN MYTTON. By Nimrod. 

With a Memoir of the Author. 
JORROCKS'S JAUNTS AND JOLLITIES. 
THE TOMMIEBEG SHOOTINGS; or, A 

Moor in Scotland. By Thomas Jeans. With 

Illustrations. 
THE DOUBLE EVENT. A Tale of the 

Melbourne Cup. By Nat Gould. 
TOO FAST TO LAST. By John Mills. 
WON IN A CANTER. By Old Calauau. 
NIMRODS NORTHERN TOUR. 
RUNNING IT OFF. By Nat Could. 
JOCKEY JACK. By Nat Gould. 



THE BEST SEASON 
ON RECORD 



(SELECTED AND REPUBLISHED FROM " THE FIELD ') 



By Captain PENNELL-ELMHIRST 

("BROOKSBY") 

AUTHOR OF "THE CREAM OF LEICESTERSHIRE" 




WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN STURGESS 



LONDON 

GEORGE ROUTLEDGE & SONS, Limited 

BROADWAY, LUDGATE HILL 
MANCHESTER AND NEW YORK 

l3 9 3 



loxuux: 
ekadbl'ky aonew, & co. ld., 1'ki.vl'liks, whitekkiaks. 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER I. 

PACE 

A rRF.l ACE AT HOME AND A I? ROAD I 



CHAPTER II. 

THE LEAF ON THE THORN IO 

CHAPTER III. 

AN AUTUMN GALLOP 1 9 

CHAPTER IV 

THE OPENING DAY 32 

CHAPTER V. 

MEN AND MANNERS 47 

CHAPTER VI. 

B^GGRAYE 5S 

CHAPTER VI I. 

BARKEY GORSE TO TILTON 6} 

CHAPTER VIII. 

HILL AND DALE 83 

CHAPTER IX. 

A TWO DAYS 1 BREAK 97 



VI CONTENTS. 

CHAPTER X. 

PAGE 

BARKBY TO TILTON AGAIN 103 

CHAPTER XI. 

STORT IN SEASON III 

CHAPTER XII. 

THE OLD YEAR OUT 125 

CHAPTER XIII. 

THE NEW YEAR I.\ 133 

CHAPTER XIV 

ONE WEEK'S WORK 150 

CHAPTER XV 

E. G. 164 

CHAPTER XVI. 

HEARSAY 172 

CHAPTER XVII. 

THE JOHN O' GAUNT GALLOP 185 

CHAPTER XVIII. 

HARDER AND HARDER 195 

CHAPTER XIX. 

OLD FRIENDS 202 

CHAPTER XX. 

THE CURATE IN SPRING 217 

CHAPTER XXI. 

DRYING UP ! 230 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. 



PAGE 

Vignette initial 1 

" Left like a Bull in a Pound " 29 

Vignette initial ......-••• 3 2 

" Holding gate open for next comer '' . . . • • • 4 1 

" Determined and Desperate " .....•• 63 

Vignette initial .......■•• 69 

" Turning a terrible summersault over each " 73 

A rattling run . . . . . • • • . . 81 

"Boy never turned his head, altered his pace, nor moved a 

muscle ".......... 93 

" A horrid fall it looked " CS 

Vignette initial 97 

" Produced it with a sweep to his very stirrup'' . . . . 107 

" Hey, Johnson ! * * * order me a train ! I'll hunt with Sir 

Bache" 113 

A welcome halt . . . . . . . . . . 123 

" He's turned right back, along the top rig o' the Greensit piece " 127 

" Saw her furry guest rush gaily out " 162 

Vignette initial 164 

" Forthwith swam back again to his master ! " , , , , 183 



via 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. 



" Dashed through the very legs of the Huntsman's horse ' 

"Here! take my flask !!" 

" He took the office at once " 

Vignette initial ........ 

" Hitting off a better spot or. the right '' 

li And shot him into the grave of briars " . 

" Puzzling his troublesome pursuers '" . 

Home !......... 



PAGE 

189 
191 

199 

202 
207 
229 
234 

2J9 



THE BEST SEASON 
ON RECORD. 



CHAPTER I. 

A PREFACE AT HOME AND ABROAD. 






■ ■fsfwSt*., 



>'<■■'., 






ijl I Jl|) -»«;, , JZ/jy^l'/ 




RIDAY, October 12th, 
was our first eleven 
o'clock meet, and the first muster in becoming force. 
The Ouorn were at Gaddesby Hall ; and a pleasant 



■rfz * 



2 THE BEST SEASON OX RECORD. 

little field, still wearing the garb of sober autumn, 
accompanied the pack to Mr. Cheney's Spinnies. 
Business was meant from the very first — the young 
hounds were to have blood, and such tiny coverts 
must of necessity throw most of the work outside 
their boundaries. And all the country round Gaddes- 
by is very charming when hounds cross it — even 
before the leaves have fallen or the herbage has lost 
its summer luxuriance. The enclosures are all grass, 
the fences perhaps a little strong for nerves that are 
yet scarcely tuned to play. But the gates are ample 
and handy ; and there were men enough to-day to ride 
through a rail or to point a ready alternative at an)' 
moment. Between Gaddesby and Oueniboro' espe- 
cially, gates provide a happy release from difficulties 
otherwise insuperable ; for the thorn fences grow to a 
height above ambition or daring, in even their rarest 
and extrcmest forms. Now, besides being big and 
forbidding, they constituted so many leaf) - screens 
which constantly hid hounds from sight when only a 
field away ; and our galloping in search was often 
very vague and haphazard. A straight fox and a 
strong scent would have lost us all more than once. 
But foxes do not always run straight in October 
(the happy succession of gallops two years ago 
forming the proving exception) ; and so, though we 
rode and jumped, loitered and shirked, for upwards of 
two hours on Friday afternoon, it was almost entirely 



A PREFACE AT HOME AND ABROAD. 3 

within the little triangle of Gaddesby, Barkby Holt 
and Oucniboro' (each point at about two miles apart 
from the others). The day was as hot and sultry as 
any of the indifferent harvest weather of the year ; 
many horses still carried their summer coats, while 
many riders had gone so far in deference to the occa- 
sion as to swathe themselves at least in hunting 
waistcoats and winter flannel. The morning draw 
was the plantation that is best entitled to the name 
of The Gaddesby Spinney ; and among those "who 
rode away from it, or appeared soon afterwards, were 
Mr. Coupland and Miss Webster, Mr. Merthyr and 
Lady Theodora Guest, Mr. and Mrs. Pennington, 
Mrs. Sloane Stanley, Capt. and Miss M. Campbell, 
General Chippindall, Capt. Grimstone, Messrs. Cheney, 
A. Barclay, Beaumont, Middleton, Alston, Thornhill, 
O. Paget, J. Cradock, G. Webster, R. Martin, with 
perhaps a dozen others — supplemented by a consider- 
able detachment of grooms, many of whom were 
zealously employed for the benefit of the farmers in 
schooling horses that long ago cost their masters the 
price at all events of perfection. 

The fox that took them hence to break the ice (a 
most inapplicable parallel in such weather) with five 
hot minutes to the village — and to die in its out- 
skirts—was old and fat as many a chosen stag of 
Exmoor. He would have little of the open country — 
though that little sufficed to put men and horses more 

U 2 



4 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

at ease. A few blind fences had been jumped ; 
hounds had been seen to run ; and never a casualty 
had yet befallen. 

All that happened in the afternoon might in mid- 
winter be served up in a couple of lines — though it 
seemed a full afternoon of merriment and pleasant 
sport to-day. A second fox was set going from 
another of Mr. Cheney's Spinnies (the one on the 
hillside opposite Gaddesby Village) ; and a round- 
about, but very enjoyable hunt, went on for a long 
time before this second old fox was brought to hand. 
At first starting men rode and hounds ran as if a 
great gallop were in prospect — the former taking 
plunge after plunge over the dark green fences 
through which the latter had disappeared from sight. 
Three times they started thus and three times 
matters steadied down to quiet hunting — Firr and 
the Ouorn ladies sticking to their fox through 
all difficulties, till about three o'clock they had 
him in hand near the point from which he had 
started. 

The turf just now is in admirable order ; rich and 
soft as velvet, after recent autumnal showers. Would 
that it could continue so through the five months 
which to us constitute the heart of the year, the soul 
of our fun ! Now we gaily skim the surface ; now we 
are shot up and over with the easiest effort of a good 
bold horse. By and by progress may be a deep slow 



A PREFACE AT HOME AND ABROAD. 5 

labour; every jump a heavy trial — while hounds may 
be flitting phantoms, and we, the lesser fry, become 
lost in the shoal of struggling comrades. 

It is too early to say definitely who will be at 
Melton for the winter. Many houses are taken, but 
several rumours of coming visitors have yet to be 
realized. Mr. Younger is obliged to give up hunting, 
and Craven Lodge will probably change hands — 
while his beautiful stud of horses is to be dispersed 
at Tattersall's on the 29th instant. Baggrave Hall 
is let to Mr. Trew ; and Billesdon Coplow of ancient 
renown to Mr. Alston. 



THE BICESTER. 

Seventeen minutes with the Bicester. Only a trifle, 
perhaps — but a trifle fast and sweet, and quite the best 
fun that I at least have yet encountered. By no means 
the pick of their country, they said, and one might 
well believe it. For, even after a single night's 
soaking, the ploughs rode deep and sticky, the grass 
at the same time was hard, lumpy and greasy, while 
many of the fences are broad, blind doubles of the 
most indefinite kind. Just the country in fact to 
bring a cropper, and to allow of that cropper being a 
rough and disagreeable one. Still, the fall was far 
more likely to come when you were going slow — 
cautiously creeping and feeling your way — than in the 



6 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

swing of a merry gallop, with the cry of hounds 
stringing- each nerve of horse and rider to its utmost 
(at least so it seemed to one on whom the conclusion 
chanced to be most fully forced). 

Bletchington and Kirklington — the two beautiful 
estates of Lord Valentia and Sir Henry Dashwood 
respectively, and immediately adjoining each other — 
were the scene of all the earlier work and play of the 
day ; and at least forty horsemen sauntered for some 
hours amid the green glades and brightly-changing 
woods of these picturesque domains. Who were all 
these representatives of the Hunt, it would be im- 
possible for me as a casual wanderer to say. But the 
following few I believe I am safe in naming as taking 
their part in the day, viz., The Master (Viscount 
Valentia), Lord Henry Bentinck, Col. Molyneux, 
Messrs. Lambton, Hartcr, Leigh, Harrises, Griffith, 
Dcwar, De \ use, &c. 

The meet had been Weston Beat Bits (about a 
dozen miles from Oxford) ; and three foxes had been 
set afoot during the morning. The hospitable portals 
of Bletchington were then thrown open ; and when a 
fresh start was made, it was with a marked and 
general improvement of appearances and weather. 
Weston Wood lies on the lower flat beneath Bletching- 
ton ; two o'clock was the time ; a fox was up as soon 
as hounds were in ; the whip viewed him away at once 
over the road ; the pack was out in a moment ; and 



A PREFACE AT HOME AND ABROAD. 7 

the field was brisk and lively as a field co^ild be. 
Down the brookside meadow raced the Bicester ladies 
(as pretty and even a pack as man might wish to see) ; 
the brook divided a heavy plough from the gayer 
grass ; men who knew their whereabouts took the 
plough, and if Ignorance did not quickly accept the 
lead, he was likely enough soon to be floundering in 
that marshy brook. For with strange perversity 
Reynard quickly changed over to the newly turned 
arable — and the brook was a class of its own — running 
under a bank of reeds, and supplemented by a ditch 
beyond. Truly they waste a great deal of ground in 
Bicestershire when they build, or neglect, their fences 
in such needless complication. Is it as a protest 
against this, think you, that, as I am told, such a very 
small number of the Oxford undergraduates nowadays 
lend their countenance to fox-hunting ? Surely not. 

Another wood was in front. At least it looked like 
one. But hounds swung past it at once ; and, leaving 
the rough deep plough behind, emerged on to a 
succession of firm green fields. A strong ash pole was 
bound high across the only gap in a first tall bull- 
finch — and had not the whip and some generous 
bystander flung their combined weight on it till it 
broke, the rest of the scurry might have been a blank 
page to us all. Then the railway, with its two white 
gates opening like magic to the Sesame of the hound 
music. Blessed platelayer ! Gladly would we tip 



8 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

you — had we time and had we money. Hounds are 
driving forward to a screaming scent ; horses are 
stretched to their utmost ; and October condition is 
beginning to speak in language unmistakable. Open 
water glitters in front — maybe a very Jordan — and 
they take but little notice of water in these parts. 
Ah, 'tis but an eight foot stream that would not 
frighten us even in Leicestershire — and we may 
follow the huntsman, Colonel Molyneux, and Lord 
Henry Bentinck as nearly as we can. For to cling to 
the huntsman's skirts — while country and courage serve 
you — is no bad recipe for seeing a run in a strange 
land. The huntsman is not likely to know anything 
of the kindly part he is thus fulfilling ; and on the 
whole I should say it may be as well not to ask his 
formal permission, still less that of his master. But, 
depend upon it, he is, in any country and quite nine 
times out of ten, as near to hounds as anyone should 
be, and thus if you can keep him in sight, you are 
pretty certain to see a good deal of the sport. 

Scarcely, now, was the little brook crossed, when 
hounds bent sharply and suddenly back to the left, 
and soon rccrossed the railway. All chance of a 
point, all hope of a long straight run were gone ; but 
the pack was still driving merrily. The hunt-servants 
readily produced a key, and the railway scarce 
hindered a moment. The next double was a sort of 
overgrown earthwork — looking, probably, ten times 



A PREFACE AT HOME AND ABROAD. 9 

more formidable now under its shroud of bramble leaf 
and tangle than when Christmas shall show it out in 
its naked ugliness. But Oxfordshire horses can 
decipher a ditch and a double ditch of the most misty 
tracing ; so Stovin and his following left it behind 
without loss of time or numbers. A gateway girth- 
deep with overnight flood let them through another 
stout double ; and soon, heated and panting, they 
were pushing through a narrow wood which the pack 
had already pierced. A few more fields, a few more 
gates — then to ground in Weston village — a circle 
almost completed — my little story told. Just time 
then to catch the train. Just time now to save the 
post. 




CHAPTER II. 

THE LEAF ON THE THORN. 

FRIDAY, October 19.— A wet chilly day that 
must have been detestable for grouse or 
partridge driving, impossible for covert 
shooting, hateful at Sandown, and more miserable 
than all indoors. Yet for fox-hunting it was quite 
passable, even before the vigour and comfort of the 
chase began. Afterwards, rain mattered nothing, 
and cold had no place — in a glowing frame and 
heart warmed to gladness. We shivered awhile in 
the morning, and we shrank under tree shelter 
where any was to be had — moved by the same 
instinct that turns a terrier into an aspen leaf as 
readily when his skin is wet in summer as on the 
coldest day in winter. For we are sybaritish still 
after our summer nothingness — have not even arrived 
at the sensation of a new pink soaking out its first rich 
beauty in clammy coldness down our ribs — have not 
yet trudged homeward in tight stiff tops, as lamely as 
the good horse limping beside us. All things are by 
comparison — and a happy heart is it that keeps a 
granary of ill memories for ready use in bettering the 



THE LEAF ON THE THORN. II 

present. There are drawbacks, possibly, to October 
hunting ; but there are very many points in its favour. 
" The country is surely very blind ! " invariably follows 
the interrogatory of the friend in the street as to 
" what sport are you having ? " Very blind it is, un- 
doubtedly ; but let not him and others delude them- 
selves that they will find the ditches all cut and cleaned 
for them by November. There will be fewer leaves 
on the hedges — and already our horses have to pick 
a more meagre luncheon from them than they found 
ready to hand a week ago. But the ditches are as 
grass-covered and indistinguishable as ever ; and so, if 
memory and precedent are not deceiving me, they will 
in a great measure continue to be till winter snow has 
played its part. Meanwhile this very bugbear of 
" blindness " immensely facilitates riding for those 
who will try it. For instance, on this Friday in 
question we could never have kept company with 
hounds along the stiff line they travelled, had there 
been a crowd — not because the fences were particu- 
larly blind, but because they were so strong that 
getting over them here and there, and galloping for 
gates as often as was necessary, would have been a 
choking and constantly disappointing process for a 
mass of horsemen. Timber is just as easy to see now 
as at any other time — and much easier to jump, for a 
horse now takes off sound and probably springy 
ground. But then timber, of course, generally occurs 



12 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

in isolated patches, where a tree has been felled out 
of the hedgerow, or a gap has been repaired. At 
least it is so in our blessed shire and its neighbours. 
Each flight of rails of this kind only admits of one 
horse and rider at a time ; and, likely enough, con- 
stitutes the only jumpable place in a lofty bullfinch. 
So it is easy to understand that the prolonged deten- 
tion of the many comrades, to whose eventual coming 
we look forward with true and glad anticipation, is 
not yet felt to be privation unalloyed. Shooting (to 
the delights of which even the most rabid of fox- 
hunters need not be callous) is never, in the fashion of 
the day and the current phases of the sport, found 
more pleasantly than in the months of October and 
November. So 'tis allowable to bid them Carpe diem. 
And yet, methinks, I would rather have been in a wet 
saddle on Friday than in a wet butt or even at a hot 
corner. " Chill October " may be a reality ; but cold 
October is an inapplicable term. An old shooting 
coat will turn an astonishing amount of rain ; a billy- 
cock is a much more suitable incumbrance in wet 
weather than a tall hat ; rough cords are much 
pleasanter when soaked through and through than 
soapy leathers (and far less likely to slip you out of 
your saddle into a ditch) ; and — not the smallest con- 
sideration of all to the careful and impecunious — you 
are not forced to choose between two alternative but 
equally distasteful courses, viz., either to submit a 



THE LEAF ON THE THORN. 1 3 

good hunting kit to the destructive influences of a 
thorough wetting, or to brave public opinion and set 
self-respect at defiance by appearing among your 
fellow-men the one ill-clad ruffian of the party. 

The best of this Friday was comprised in fifty 
minutes of the afternoon. By one o'clock there could 
scarcely have been a dry skin among Mr. Coupland's 
fifty followers, except in the case of two or three who 
clung to the worse discomfort of heavy waterproofs. 
Already some of the venturesome had been entrapped 
in the gardens and orchards of Barkby Village, while 
a bad fox twisted out of scent. But a good number 
of dripping sportsmen were still at hand when the 
run began from the Long Spinney at Scraptoft. To 
follow the chase on paper through all its deviations 
would be unprofitable and uninteresting. To begin 
with, however, we were soon set going from the laurels 
of Scraptoft Hall to the outskirts of Keyham Village 
— a line that at any time takes some doing, and that 
now was only to be done by means of persistent 
cunning and the most artful shirking. Hounds for- 
tunately did not move fast enough to prohibit such 
ignoble measures ; and so we could keep them in sight, 
while they left Keyham to the right, and reached the 
Beeby Brook. Turning here to the right, the pack at 
once quickened the pace, and ran the brookside for 
the next ten minutes — leaving Hungerton Foxholes 
half a field to the left, and checking only for a 



14 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

moment when crossing the road just before reaching 
it. A beautiful grass valley is this (and, indeed, all 
hitherto had been grass, with the exception only of a 
couple of small stubble fields), and strongly fenced 
besides. But where gates did not favour, there were 
clean post-and-rails to offer their help ; and so men 
made their way with little difficulty and with hearty 
zest. Very pretty hound work carried them on by 
Ingarsby station, and forward till Houghton spire was 
close in front. Then a holloa, possibly on a fresh fox 
took them back by Mr. Carver's Spinney — -and soon 
afterwards hounds were running round and round the 
Coplow (or rather the covert of Botany Bay) after two 
or three different foxes. The ride home was not a 
very comfortable sequel ; but what mattered that 
after a run so early and in itself so pretty ? Why 
does early lamb tempt the epicure ? Why do fair ladies 
prefer rather to anticipate a fashion than to incur the 
reproach of being behind it ? Why is there charm in 
spring ; and why is there tenfold power in a passion 
re-asserted ? This is our spring and our re-awaken- 
ing. And very very glad were we now that we had 
scorned the promptings of our craven heart — bidding 
us turn homeward at midday when the weather was 
at its worst. 

Wednesday last, October 24th, brought the Belvoir 
to Clawson Thorns — and brought also the lamentable 
news that Gillard had broken his leg over-night. The 



THE LEAF ON THE THORN. 1 5 

casualty, it seems, was due to the upsetting of the 
hound van, in which it is customary to carry the pack 
to and from work on the Lincolnshire side. One of the 
horses shied across the road when descending a hill 
close at home ; and the van tilted over against the 
bank at the side. The whole staff, and Champion the 
Duke of Richmond's huntsman, were shot into the 
road ; but Gillard, who sustained a fracture of the 
small bone of a leg and a severe sprain of an ankle, 
was the only one of the party hurt. The hounds of 
course were rolled over in a mass ; but it is said that 
not one of them was the worse for it. Very naturally, 
the greatest sympathy is widely expressed for the 
huntsman, whose misfortune at such a time is also as 
serious a matter to others as it is grievous to him. A 
bed of sickness and pain in November must indeed be 
the lot of Tantalus to a man who should be carrying 
the horn with such a pack. 

Wednesday's was a lovely morning — if it led 
neither to good news nor to great sport. Bright, cool 
and autumnal, with the grass sparkling everywhere 
with glistening dewdrops, and trees and hedges 
radiant with every hue from darkest green to ruddiest 
orange. Never was a canter to covert accomplished 
under pleasanter auspices, never were daydreams more 
freely and happily prompted. The roadside turf 
seemed to spring to the hoofstroke ; the sharp air 
fanned one's cheeks into a glow and filled one's lungs 



1 6 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

with life — while the very magpies chattered two by 
two in merry augury. 

Ten o'clock was the trysting time at Clawson 
Thorns ; and only a slender company assembled to 
see what treasures the casket might contain. For 
neither this covert, Holvvell Mouth, nor Old Hills had 
yet been drawn — and rumour had it that the first 
and last contained quite two litters apiece. Nor was 
rumour on this occasion far beyond the mark. Each 
held at least three or four brace of foxes — and the 
day was quite a cubhunting, or cubkilling, one. One 
fat innocent paid the penalty in Clawson Thorns ; and 
two fell victims in the wooded basin of Old Hills — 
where for a time every hound seemed to be running 
his own fox. The neighbourhood is evidently essen- 
tially fox-hunting. Labourers from the fields, and red- 
dusted workers from the Hclwell ironpits (for alas, 
iron is now found only too plentifully even in 
Leicestershire), trooped up by scores, to form a bois- 
terous and appreciative audience round the amphi- 
theatre of Old Hills — which they undoubtedly regard 
as coming by every right under their own protecto- 
rate, in the interests of civilisation and of sport. The 
neutral covert of Holvvell Mouth, it should be 
mentioned, had not held a fox : but this will be of 
the less consequence with two such well-stocked fast- 
nesses on either side. Arthur, the first whip and 
Gillard's locum tenens, had no other port of call set 



THE LEAF ON THE THORN. \J 

down in his sailing orders. Besides which, by this 
time his saddle was as thickly hung with fox-heads 
as that of a warrener's pony with rabbits. However, 
the little Scalford Spinney was close by. There 
might be a fox there — and we have many a cheery 
memory linked with this little spot. There was a fox 
— and a bold old gentleman too. But we did not 
have a run ; for hounds were soon once more among 
the cubs of Old Hills. 

Quite the leader, and quite one of the most appre- 
ciative members, of the little party who watched the 
day's proceedings was the Rev. — Bullen of Eastwell, 
now entering on his eightieth season with hounds—- 
his first serious fall having taken place in his second 
season with his father's pack in Norfolk, only seventy- 
nine years ago, when he dislocated his knee. Wednes- 
day last was his second day in the week ; and, to all 
appearance (and certainly if the good wishes of hun- 
dreds avail anything) he will stand work for years to 
come. Within the last very few winters he has 
ridden really hard across country. Even now his 
face of keen enjoyment as hounds drive their fox 
through covert is a refreshing and admirable sight. 
He was present at Salamanca ; and he went through 
the retreat from Burgos. See what fox-hunting can 
do towards prolonging health and life ! 

Another veteran was there too, of humbler degree, 
and whose past history is linked with less stirring 



1 8 'THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

events — but whose presence in the hunting field was 
almost an equally strong protest against the power 
of the arch enemy Time. This venerable fox-hunter 
hails from the village of Long Clawson ; and cannot 
have lived less than the three score and ten of man's 
allotted allowance. During the years of my brief 
experience I have never missed seeing this grizzly 
veteran at the covertside, whenever hounds have met 
in his immediate neighbourhood ; and his mount has 
been the same since I first knew him. An acquaint- 
ance cemented by such opportunities of intercourse 
led me to risk the charge of impertinence and to 
inquire how long he had been carried by the same 
animal. " Fourteen seasons," he promptly answered, 
" and he'll carry me, I hope, a good many more yet." 
The sanguine nature of the reply will, I trust, be 
found justified by events — and the old man and his 
tiny donkey in attendance on the Duke's hounds for 
years to come. 



CHAPTER III. 

AN AUTUMN GALLOP. 

fHE last Friday in October was signalised by 
as fast and cheery a gallop as is likely to 
mark the Quorn season '83 '84. Thirty flying 
minutes from Gaddesby Spinney, over some of the 
prettiest ground of the Hunt, and with just enough 
people for the requirements of good fellowship. A 
hundred might have ridden to hounds, without 
getting in each other's way — so fair, open, and roomy 
was the country of to-day. 

There are times when one should write and there 
are times when the pen seems loaded with lead- — as 
there are times, with most of us, when the tongue 
must fling, and other times (and those possibly the 
most inconvenient) when the tongue is clogged and 
intellect is stubbornly dull. The hour for telling a 
gallop is, perhaps, while the spirit is still aflame, 
before a night's unconsciousness has drifted the brain 
elsewhere, and, much more, before other pursuits 
have occupied the mind or the platitude of daily life 
has achieved a reaction almost approaching sadness. 
To-morrow we shall no longer live in the ride, no 

c 2 



20 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

longer breathe excitement, no longer be moving 
cheek by jowl with comrades as jovially earnest — as 
madly intent — as (may I say ?) you and I, reader. 
I would put you in the middle of the scurry forth- 
with, and send you cramming and spurring in pursuit 
of those lithesome ladies at once — but that every tale 
must have its beginning, its characters however few, 
its events however tamed by fact, and its sequel how- 
ever ordinary. Wherever you have been of late, you 
know of the soft moist days that characterised the 
latter half of October. The Friday in question was a 
full example — drizzly and almost chilly as one stood 
still ; wet, hot, and choking as one galloped and 
jumped. A few people had been at Ashby pastures 
when hounds were cast into it at ten o'clock ; a good 
many more had turned up at their leisure during the 
morning — while hounds were fighting against a weak 
scent among falling leaves in covert, and doing their 
best and liveliest against shortrunning foxes outside. 

Gaddesby Spinney is a little copse, with the name 
of which my kindly readers must be only too familiar 
—for does it not recur as regularly and almost as 
profusely, autumn after autumn, as the falling of the 
leaf ? Distinct amongst Mr. Cheney's other, and 
equally valued, patches of covert in the neighbour- 
hood, the plantation that lies about half a mile 
westward of the village retains the denomination. 
And some thirty individuals, all darkly dressed and 



AN AUTUMN GALLOP. 21 

dripping, clustered at its edge in the early afternoon 
of Friday. The old sweet sound ! Hark to it, old 
ladies ! The covert's a tiny one ; a fox is a fact, a 
scent is more than likely, and a gallop ought to be 
a certainty. Out flashes the fact— No, tally-ho, back ! 
and may Tom Mooney's ghost haunt the fool on foot 
at the corner ! Ah, but that slip back was only a 
ruse ; already they are screaming away at the end of 
the covert opposite the village ; and now you may 
kick in and out of the rough ridge-and-furrow as fast 
as you can. By virtue of habit the timekeepers dive 
at their fobs. " One-thirty by my old clock, any- 
thing you like by the time— but help me remember 
one-thirty" 

" A moment, ONE moment, please, gentlemen ! " — 
and the ladies come bundling out, among and behind 
the little throng that has whisked all too hastily round 
to the halloa. Twenty yards from the covert is a tall 
thorn fence, still bearing, in gorgeous red and faded 
green, the full foliage of summer. In a second or two 
every hound has dived noisily through the gaudy 
screen ; and the music moves lustily on — but whither 
the pack may be pointing is a matter of vaguest 
guess. The lengthy and impenetrable curtain must 
be outflanked one way or the other. Please yourself 
whether you gallop back or gallop on. Choosing 
onward, you will reach the Gaddesby road, and cut 
off the pack if it bends to the right, Slip back and 



22 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

you make it safe should it turn to the left. Firr, with 
a trusting majority after him, takes the latter course. 
Supposing you are for once misguided enough to put 
more faith in your own instinct than in that of the 
huntsman, you soon find yourself hammering the 
road, with the invisible chorus gradually waxing 
fainter — while the stroke of your gallop and the beat 
of your own heart grow faster and faster. Leftward 
they've turned, by all that's brief in life and deceptive 
in hope ! Easy enough — and often convenient enough 
— it is to get into a broad road ; but to leave it (as 
pulpit and experience have taught us all our lives) is 
a very different task. So for a long quarter of a mile 
never an outlet presents itself. A gate at last — and 
off to the left the gleam of a white hound darting 
through the second fence away. Those two fences 
and two great furrowed fields are made up as quickly 
as hot anxiety and a big striding horse can manage. 
In the third the two streams reunite ; and we are 
galloping in the train of the huntsman's party. Amid 
these tight little meadows and their thick leafy hedges 
you will see nothing of hounds unless you are on their 
backs. But the single red coat is the best of beacons, 
as it flickers brightly over each intervening barrier or 
flashes like a meteor across some rising ground. This 
may help you to cut into the grassy lane of the 
Gaddesby and Brooksby bridle road, and to catch the 
swinging handgate that opens into the wide Brooksby 



AN AUTUMN GALLOP. 2$ 

pastures — while Mr. Alfred Brocklehurst, on the best 
of timber jumpers, launches over the rails by the side, 
and the voice of the less venturesome pleads, Do as 
you would be done by and keep it open for me. 
Twenty couple, young and old, are driving down the 
wide green slope — the old ladies straining madly on 
the ravishing scent, the youngsters catching the new 
excitement that they have never felt to the full before. 
We ought to know this bridle path, and should have 
learned to open its easy gates ere now. But the 
three leaders find no time nor need to stop— so why 
should reader and I ? The fence in the valley is but 
a flying trifle ; though little clue can we gather of its 
make and width till we see that Mr. H. T Barclay is 
safely landed — and we wonder why his horse should 
have taken no note of the grass-grown rivulet beyond, 
which ours emphasized with so pronounced a peck on 
h*s knees and nose. Up the brow the next is a fair, 
pleasant jump, and so is the following one. But 
" Ware wire ! " sends a chill down our backbone as we 
approach the third — and right gladly do we mark the 
pack turning along the dreaded barrier. At this time 
of year above all others is wire our phantom, too often 
our embodied, enemy. Not only is the tight-stretched 
strand far more difficult to perceive through the leafy 
branches of October, but the fat stock has not yet 
found a market, and the farmers are loth to weaken 
their fences too soon. Year by year, however, we 



24 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

gladly and thankfully notice a marked diminution, 
even during the summer, in the quantity of wire set 
to guard the fences of the Midlands. It is found to 
be so fruitful of injury to cattle, so easily knocked out 
of order, and withal so indifferent a protection against 
the bull-headed pertinacity of a restless shorthorn, 
that its apparent economy is no longer a recom- 
mendation, and very few lines of wire fencing are 
now either fresh set or renewed. Soon may the old- 
fashioned oxer again reign paramount, to invite or 
repel with its rugged honesty — -according to the 
measure and prompting of our years (a pun would be 
a vile thing even in the cause of pusillanimity) and 
our discretion. But the wire in question stretches 
only half the breadth of the field ; and with the regard 
for their followers that so constantly characterised the 
movements of fox and hounds throughout this merry 
gallop, they now strike through the hedge almost 
exactly where the metal ends — and while we behind 
gasp " Wire," they in front charge a hole in the fence, 
and sweep down the wide stretching pasture in full 
content. Many a gallop have I ridden in Leicestershire 
(as I e'en hope to do again) — and have seen hounds 
and horses go away from me more often than I should 
like to say — but never has the pace seemed better 
than now. Fast horses are galloping their utmost on 
the fairest turf, an easy fence comes perhaps in half a 
mile of galloping, gates are either standing open or 



AN AUTUMN GALLOP. 25 

fly back at once to the crop — and yet the pack is 
going all too fast for us unwilling laggards, till a 
wandering shepherd throws a chance turn in our 
favour. Now we cross the " Melton and Leicester 
turnpike," midway between Rearsby and Brooksby ; 
now we have worked through a few pumping acres of 
newly turned arable, and now we are pushing up the 
big grass field for the covert of Bleakmore, marvelling 
why the turf seems less elastic, and the stride of our 
horse less conformable with ridge and furrow, than 
only a few brief minutes ago. Yes, lungs and muscle 
are never in autumn what they may be after Christmas 
— and 'tis only the commencement of the lesson yet. 
Fondly we hug ourselves that Bleakmore is just in 
front ; and that in another minute we shall be on foot 
beside our fat steeds — mopping our foreheads with 
gusto, and flinging our tongues in noisy exuberant 
accord on the subject of the pleasant scurry just over. 
Not yet. For the merry ladies race onwards along 
the ridge — leaving Bleakmore and the railway below 
them on the right. How now for your " honest 
oxer ? " Here it is in its most laudable ruggedness — 
and, in plain Saxon, an ugly beast it is too. The rail 
on the take-off side is no excuse for the qualm that 
stabs you like the conscience of a schoolboy caught 
cribbing his task. But the high-laid fence shows its 
strong teeth e'en through the heavy foliage ; a ditch 
of unknown dimensions lies beyond ; there is a whisper, 



26 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD, 

too, of wire ; and any number of predecessors are not 
likely to bring things to a much lower level. The 
huntsman quickly makes up his mind to the inevit- 
able ; but his horse (brilliantly as he carries him 
throughout) on this occasion whips round to take 
time for a second thought. Mr. Brocklehurst clears 
the whole difficulty a few yards to the right, while 
the Cambridgeshire hero takes the office from Firr, 
and makes a bold bid for victory. Post and rails, 
hedge and ditch, are covered gallantly. But beyond 
them all, and visible only from mid air, glistens 
another stout ox rail. " Forty to one against Ben- 
digo!" shouts his familiar friend as he himself lands 
in safety. But the only response to the liberal offer 
is a loud cracking of timber, a heavy flounder and 
another good man fallen on the turf. Matters are a 
little simpler now ; and after seeing the huntsman, 
Captain O'Neal, Mr. Peake, Mr. Cradock, Mr. Alston, 
and two or three others, surmount the less compli- 
cated difficulty, reader and I too may pull ourselves 
together, put our panting beast through the same 
process — by help of knee and heel against his well- 
furnished sides — and even reach the others as, after 
another half mile of grass, they huddle at a bridlegate 
by Rearsby. The fox has swung to the left, again 
across the turnpike ; but with such a scent as there is 
to-day, the pack falters neither on road nor plough, 
but drives forward over the little fields behind the 



AN AUTUMN GALLOP. 2J 

village, whether they happen to be eddish or arable. 
Scarcely so with their followers. The drive is well- 
nigh spent, the steel is out of the iron, and the oil is 
all but burned out. A horse will gallop in a mechanical 
sort of way long after the power to jump has left him. 
A very limited experience with the symptoms suffices 
to teach us where such a stage has been reached ; also 
that a mere mechanical stride is of little use against a 
strong top binder. It by no means follows that the 
faculty of appreciation adds greatly to our enjoyment 
at such moments. I confess to its having a very 
contrary effect upon my frail nerves — and I venture 
to assert, by the way, that the one great drawback to 
the pleasures of steeplechase jockeyship lies in the 
frequent necessity of riding a beaten horse home. 
Now, however, there are gates and gaps to help us. 
Again we are on the grass, and at the pace hounds 
are running they must surely catch a view in another 
minute or two. A shepherd — with more than the 
acumen or consideration of his race, holding his colley 
in his arms — declares " the fox is nobbut a hoondred 
ya-ards afore 'em!" the while he fumbles at an 
unwilling gate, and we pant and ejaculate, and hope 
there is no more jumping to be done. " Forrard, 
little bitches," rings cheerily out as the pack glides up 
the hedgeside, and we follow hurriedly to the corner — ■ 
trusting that, as hitherto, providence, and enlightened 
agriculture will have provided free means of egress 



28 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

from field to field. Yes, there's a nice stile for the 
use of labourers and for people on foot- — and well 
used it evidently is, for the approach to it is worn into 
a hole, and slimy clay has taken the place of grass. 
Beyond this, the corner is a veritable cul de sac ; for 
lofty bullfinches, of an earlier generation, enclose 
either flank — and despair settles upon our soul. 

If you, reader, happen to have hunted in the Pytch- 
ley country some twenty years ago, when that flying 
huntsman, and most rapid yet laconic of talkers, 
Charles Pain, was in his prime, you may remember an 
oft-quoted incident that eminently illustrated the man. 
Reaching a certain corner, from which the only appa- 
rent escape was retreat — (the last alternative that ever 
occurred to his mind) he found another hard rider just 
turning reluctantly away. Charles Pain was one who 
suited his words to his actions, the latter being quite 
as rapid and ready as the former — so, taking his horse 
short by the head, he pursued his way without further 
ado, accompanying and explaining his progress only 
with a single running sentence, " Will do, will do — 
must do, must do ; d — d woolly place — hold up, ye 
beggar — hey bitch ! " Men who knew him in those 
days will easily fill in for themselves the rapidity of 
the jerky utterances, and the high treble pitch to 
which the last syllable would raise him. Alas for the 
feelings of him who had turned aside ; alas for the 
plight of those who would ride to his lead ! Think 



AN AUTUMN GALLOP. 



29 



you they found their situation any more palatable 
than ours now — Firr's whitelegged bay having shown 
us all a clean pair of heels — our fox said to be dead 
beat, and our horses undoubtedly so ? Well, " must 
do, must do "—and Kismet is kind to the next 




•LEFT LIKE A BULL IN A POUND. 



three — too kind, for they do nothing to mend matters 
for those who have yet to come. No. 4 has already 
declared loudly that he cannot, nay, that he will not ; 
for that 

The heart of his good horse 

Was nigh to burst with violence of the beat, 

And so perforce he stayed, and overtaken spoke. 

But finding himself left like a bull in a pound, and 



30 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

that neither Tennyson nor any other man is likely to 
help him out, unless he helps himself, he too puts his 
head down and goes for the opening — if so it might 
be called. It has every claim to the title when he 
has done with it ; for half a ton of beaten horse-flesh 
will splinter almost any top-bar in the county, that 
has been rained upon for more than a single year 
(and this is one of the reasons for our constant asser- 
tion that big horses are better than little ones, to 
carry us in Leicestershire). That such a result, how- 
ever, cannot alwaj-s be attained without a certain 
concussion was, he tells me, instanced in the query of 
his groom that night — " Wasn't it close at home as 
you fell, sir ? I thought as the colour of the dirt on 
the chestnut's head looked as if it were." 

Meanwhile the hounds have encountered their first 
momentary check — their fox having been driven 
almost back among them by two men who shouted 
in his very face. But for this they must have pulled 
him down in a few more fields. Now they of course 
flash beyond the point ; recover themselves, however, 
and the line, very quickly ; but lose a very vital half 
minute. By this time the circle is nearly completed : 
and the boundary brook between the Gaddesby and 
Brooksby parishes is reached where rails must be 
torn down, while hounds go on alone. Again we are 
on the Brooksby manor ; again hounds are going 
faster than we can, and we are going very much 



AN AUTUMN CALLOl'. 3 1 

faster than our horses. Indeed, as Who-hoop sounds 
over a drain, at the road immediately above the hall, 
only the Master and his man arc there at the moment 
to give it —"the field in varied plight arriving as best 
they can." We shall see nothing faster, and we may 
sec very few things better this year. I have made a 
long story of these thirty minutes. But The Field is 
read by many a man who for awhile can only get his 
hunting on paper. To him I need make no apology. 
The man)' who may be enjoying equal sport else- 
where, have their own recent experiences to feast 
upon. It may not be my fortune — very possibly will 
not be — to find even such material as the above for 
pen or for personal pleasure for some time to come. 
Why should I not be allowed to make the most of it 
now ? Is there much profanity in the old Latin's 
sentiment below ? Few of us, to whom the vicissi- 
tudes of life past and present are familiar, will be 
likely to assert that there is. 

Happy the man, and happy he alone, 

lie who can call today his own. 

lie who, secure within, can say, 

To-morrow, do thy worst, for I have lived to-day. 

i'.e fait" or foul, or rain or shine, 

The joys I have possessed, in spite of Fate, are mine. 

Not Heaven itself upon the past has power, 

But what has been, has been, mid I have had my hour. 



CHAPTER IV 



THE OPENING DAY. 




Monday, Novem- 
ber 5th, the sea- 
son was, accord- 
ing to time- 
honoured cus- 
tom, formally- 
inaugurated at 
Kirby Gate. As 
with our birth- 
days, each recur- 
ring occasion 
brings a less 
sense of self- 



congratulation 
than the one 
before. Not that each opening meet is not in itself 
a welcome event — but there is the afterthought that 
another item has been entered against our very 
limited credit, and the account cannot go on for ever. 
Never mind — " Chal'k it up ! Chal'k it up ! " Mynheer 



The opening day. 33 

of the scythe and hourglass. Rip Van Winkle never 
troubled himself about his score — nor recked the leap 
of Time. Why should we ? 

There is always much that is bright and cheerful at 
Kirby Gate. The first blush of pink, the first glitter 
of snowy buckskin, lend a gaiety to the scene, that 
alone is refreshing and inspiriting. That the gather- 
ing is attractive as a show, is amply evinced by the 
regularity with which it is brought to do duty as an 
annual picnic for Leicester and the country round. 
So, besides their doing what is right by themselves 
and comrades in bringing their talents to bear upon 
the toilet of the day, the brave gentlemen who take 
part in the pageant are really performing a public 
duty, viz., popularising fox-hunting and maintaining 
its place in public esteem. What would the Lord 
Mayor be, but for the Lord Mayor's Show ? Why is 
the sway of an Indian prince, however cruel and 
tyrannical, always far more popular with the multi- 
tude than the cold even justice of the British rule ? 
Simply on account of the glitter and show ever 
associated with the presence of an Eastern potentate. 
In like manner the gay colouring and bright sur- 
roundings of fox-hunting do quite as much towards 
keeping it in favour as any of the more sterling 
advantages it can boast, or even the claims of old 
custom that it can urge. The whole countryside de- 
light in viewing the passing pageantry of the chase, 

D 



34 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

and its brilliantly clad votaries are welcomed every- 
where. A farmer will take pride and pleasure in the 
passage of the gay throng across his land, who would 
give anything but a cordial welcome to a bevy of 
riders merely loosing off their superfluous energy over 
his farm. 

A notice of a Kirby Gate meet would be altogether 
imperfect without some mention, however incomplete, 
of those present. Besides many strangers from a 
distance, there were on horseback, Mr. Coupland and 
Miss Webster, Capt. and Mrs. Ashton, Mr. and Mrs. 
Pennington, Mr. H., Mrs., and Miss Story, Mr. W 
and Miss Chaplin and Mrs. Moore, Mr. and Mrs. 
Clifford Chaplin, Mr. Ernest Chaplin, Capt. and Mrs. 
Molyneux, Mrs. Robertson, Miss Paget, Miss Living- 
ston, Miss Banning, Duke of Portland, Lords 
Manners and Newark, Sir Frederick Fowke, Sir 
Arthur Scott, Major-General Chippindall, Colonel 
Gosling, Capts. Barclay, Grimston, Campbell, Henry, 
Hill-Trevor, O'Neil, Whitmore, Goodchild, Boyce, 
Starkie, Fowke, Jacobson, Messrs. A. C. Barclay, 
H. Bodcn, A. Brocklehurst, Baldock, Beaumont, 
Bankart, Clayton, Cochrane, Creyke, Conant, Camp- 
bell, Custance, Fowke, Farnham, Gleadow, Graham, 
L. Johnstone, R. VV Johnson (his thirty-second 
attendance), Knowles, Lubbock, Langmore, Manners, 
Mai tin, Miles, Parker, O. Paget, G. Paget, Pochin, 
Peake, Powell, Rose, Seabrook, Trew, G. Webster, 



The opening daV. 3§ 

Wade, Fox, Sykes, Brewitt, Simpkin, Smith, 
Morris, &c, &c. 

With pleasant weather, and a right good day's 
sport, the Ouorn never opened their season more 
auspiciously. Excellent sport indeed they had had 
for a fortnight previous ; but the first Monday in 
November is their gala day ; and is — why I cannot 
tell — the earliest occasion on which more than half 
their regular followers can be induced to attend. 
This matter of toilet can possess no great charms 
for them — certainly after their first completed season. 
The old soldier wears his uniform only when duty 
compels him; the last -joined ensign (or whatever 
answers to him in a territorial cadre) is never happy 
out of it. No. They would seem to regulate their 
arrival by some such hidden law as governs the com- 
ing of the woodcocks— reducing it to practice in the 
form of the " first Monday in November," much as 
the latter may be expected with the first north-east 
wind in the month. I fear that these November 
sportsmen find the fences anything but clear of 
darkening leaf and tangled grass even now. As a 
matter of fact, the country is little less blind than 
ever; while the ground is rapidly becoming deep and 
holding — the latter condition being really a much 
more fruitful cause of grief than the former. 

But there were few falls to-day, very much fewer 
than I remember on the certain number of previous 

D 2 



36 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

occasions that it has been my luck to attend at 
Kirby Gate— a fact that may, perhaps, be attributed 
to the comparatively slender proportion of the field 
that saw either of the runs of the day. Let me get 
on at once to history. A fox had been found — or, as 
is usually the case at Gartree Hill, whereat another 
large crowd always assembles long before the long 
procession of horsemen and carriages winds into 
sight, found himself — before hounds were in 
covert. 

So the horn was going at the foot of the hill before 
half the cavalcade had debouched from the lane ; and 
for all the start they got they might as well have 
remained at Kirby Gate. Yet, as the hunt worked 
slowly over the Burton Flat, and round by Lees- 
thorpe, it was easy enough for one and all to reach 
the hounds during the next quarter of an hour. 

The vigour and life of the run began when the fox 
was suddenly headed and driven back among hounds, 
so that they coursed him for his life across two fields 
into the laurels of Dalby Hall— the leaders straining 
at his very brush, and even snapping at him as he 
jumped the garden wall. Once round the shrubs and 
grounds they drove him virulently — and this bursting 
struggle it was, no doubt, that eventually cost him his 
brush. The many who know Dalby Hall, and have 
helped at any time to reap the fruits of Mr. Hartopp's 
goodwill as testified to three different hunts, know 



THE OPENING DAY. 37 

well enough how difficult it often is to circumvent 
that extensive enclosure of garden and pleasure 
ground, covering the side and crest of a hill, and 
attracting for awhile almost every fox found in its 
vicinity. Now the field hurried round its outskirts, 
expecting to meet the hounds beyond. Anon they 
would have hurried back again ; but that the narrow 
lane became choked and impassable. At this fatal 
moment Reynard broke away at the point he had 
entered. The wind blew freshly thither, and carried 
off any holloas that may have announced his exit ; 
some of the pack came away, still almost at his brush, 
the rest followed by instinct ; and Firr, under the 
influence of some similar motive power, sallied forth 
too as the tail hounds were leaving the laurels. 
Crossing the road below Wheathills, the lengthened 
pack took to the grass at a pace that for some fields 
forbade the possibility of its getting together, or of 
the few horsemen at hand achieving more than just 
to keep it in sight. Mr. G. Pochin happened to be 
posted where they left the road ; the huntsman came 
within range as they topped the hill whereon stood 
the Grand Stand of the last National Hunt Chases ; 
and a small party — of whom, if I am not mistaken 
General Chippindall, Captains Ashton and Hill-Trevor 
Messrs. Martin, F- Cradock, Seabrook, Simpkin, 
Morris, and two or three others, were members — - 
joined in to race down over the first fences of the 



38 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

course — the colours of the butcher-in-blue going 
prominently in the van. At Berry Gorse the pack 
had closed up ; and the riders had their numbers 
slightly augmented— the road along the valley from 
Dalby giving an excellent chance to any who had 
caught an echo of the departing chase. Thus it may 
have been here, or shortly afterwards — or even before, 
for the scribe can only particularise under correction, 
and according to his light — that Mr. Wade joined in 
the fray ; while the Master, Col. Gosling, Mr. Penning- 
ton, Mr. Parker, and Mr. Alston were early in reach- 
ing the hounds. A plough team at work outside Berry 
Gorse drove the fox through the covert ; but the 
line was carried on at once at the top. The quickest 
part of the run was during the past ten minutes and 
the ten ensuing — though very few fences were jumped 
and gates made the way easy for galloping. A brook 
- — the pseudo-Whissendine — presented itself in the 
next valley ; but its banks were ragged and broken, 
its waters ran yellow, and probably cold ; and the 
road and its bridge lay less than five hundred yards 
away. Common sense therefore declared for the 
bridge — though on the stubblefield beyond the water 
the run fox was plain to be seen, his lengthy form 
moving in a direction almost opposite to that of the 
bridge. So Commonscnse kept itself dry; and was 
rewarded by meeting hounds again, as the latter bent 
risrht back into the road half a mile further on. The 



THE OPENING DAY. 39 

prettiest bit of houndvvork of the day now took place, 
as the pack carried a faint line quickly along the 
muddy road towards the village of Whissendine. For 
quite the next half mile they could not speak to a 
scent ; hound after hound lifted her nose and followed 
doubtingly on, but a few old line hunters never 
slackened speed ; and when every one but the hunts- 
man must have lost confidence, the pack broke out of 
the lane at a tangent, and pursued its way in full 
chorus. 

Thus they ran just to the right of Whissendine 
village — many other hurrying horsemen joining in ; 
and the hounds warming afresh to their work when 
fairly among the grass fields beyond. Here the fences 
came quick and close, and jumping enthusiasts (a 
heading which on occasion may no doubt claim to 
include us all) at length had their fling — and, as 
Artemus Ward might have put it, they flung. It is 
not apropos of this particular period — though it is 
certainly apropos of the day, and wholly unprompted 
by the smart of any personal injury — I remark there 
are two essential points in riding to hounds in this 
country, that strangers making their first, or a casual, 
essay in it are too apt to disregard, or with which they 
have at least failed to make themselves conversant. 
The one is — taking your turn at a fence ; the other, 
holding a gate open till the next comer can catch it. 
Of course the chances are they come out of countries 



40 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

where the fences are to be jumped anywhere, and 
where the gates are never the sole means of exit for a 
large body of horsemen. But they would do well (if 
I may be forgiven for putting it so plainly) to realise 
that where, as in the Midlands, a single gap is the 
only place at which a fence can be jumped, and where 
gates are often the only possible outlet, the immense 
fields which they come to swell cannot possibly get 
quickly and fairly over a country, unless each indi- 
vidual will take only his own turn, and is ready to 
pass on the assistance that he expects from his 
predecessor. Of course there are sinners in our very 
midst ; but they must be endowed with a cuticle of 
inordinate thickness if they have hunted long in the 
country without their sense of right and wrong being 
touched on this head. 

But of the hunt, which had now been going steadily 
on for about an hour, and had all but reached Mr. 
YYestlcy-Richards' Spinnies above Ashwell. As 
hounds dwelt for a moment under the feet of hard- 
jumpers, a shrill view holloa came up from the valley. 
" Fred's holloa," exclaimed the executive— and when 
a second whip throws his voice it means, of course, 
the run fox (or instant execution). Sure enough, 
the run fox (already pronounced by a villager to be 
" done to nothing ") had struggled down the hillside 
before another section of the rearguard, and had 
crossed the railway opposite the village of Teigh. 



THE OPENING DAY. 



41 



The eager field made a momentary check by smother- 
ing the fox's line as they trooped under the railway 
— but, in a very few minutes more, hounds were 
mouthing and mumbling in a ditch beside a farm- 
house — and a right good sporting run had ended as it 



WmmM 




"HOLDING GATE OtEN FOR NEXT COMER." 



should. An hour and twenty-five minutes was the 
average computation : and the distance from point to 
point (Gartree Hill to Teigh) is close upon seven 
miles. The scent, a curious rather than a burning one, 
was nevertheless sufficiently good for hounds to run 
fast and unassisted. At no time did it seem to carry 
them broadly across a field-^as would a breast-high 



42 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD, 

scent which each hound can reach ; yet the pace was 
fully that of a fast hunting-run. 

It was well on in the afternoon before Thorpe 
Trussels was drawn ; and quite dark when hounds 
wended their way homewards after a sharp little 
scurry (some sixteen minutes over the grass) to 
Burrough Hill House. 

Who shall say that honour was not duly paid to 
the memory of Guy Fawkes on this Quorn Monday ? 

The above is but a prosy record of scanty fact. It 
conveys no real picture of the pleasures of our open- 
ing day, brings to mind or eye none of the glow of 
friendships again set going, still less does it bring out 
the light of the least selfish, the most hearty, of all 
pastimes — the jotting up at the finish of which in- 
volves no such reckoning as your best friend's money 
won — nor even such invidious inquiry and soliloquy 
as " How many birds have you down ? I've (to 
myself) at any rate a total you can't beat." " I was 
making a score while you mooded over a duck's egg," 
etc. etc. Competition, no doubt, does exist in riding 
to hounds as in every other line of life. But the best 
result is, " I was in it, old fellow, and so were you. 
May we ride many another gallop together." And 
(if I read the lesson right, from the example and 
instance of better men) he comes best out of the 
competition who competes but with himself, and 
battles only against his own shortcoming, 



THE OPENING DAY, 43 

The final rehearsal before the curtain rose to full 
costume and panoply was enacted by the Quorn 
company on Friday, November 2nd, at Round Hill 
by Syston, and within very attainable distance of 
Leicester — as was proved by the presence of hundreds 
to whom fox-hunting may be said, without slight or 
calumny to them, to be a species of art in the distant 
abstract, or familiarised only through the medium of 
Caldecott and stray scribblers (who shall be nameless) 
in the sporting papers. But extremes will meet — and 
here was an instance of the industry of democratic 
Leicester drawing to itself the frivolity of rural and 
patrician sport. Hosiery has long been the staple 
trade of the city. Here it had committed itself to the 
freak of eliminating the aspirate, and established a 
large osiery within easy hail of its portals. To supply 
the manufactory with material, many acres of wet 
ground had been utilised as a withy bed ; and had at 
once been seized upon by the family of Reynard as 
doubtless laid out for their especial comfort and 
advantage. Thus there have been foxes among the 
willows throughout the summer ; and though the 
neighbourhood is one scarcely calculated to show the 
sport in its freest form, hunting them was little less 
than a matter of necessity — besides offering an oppor- 
tunity of paying a well-earned compliment to city 
and citizens. The river Soar flows just below the 
willowbed ; the village of Thurmaston (almost a 



44 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

corporate part of Leicester) hems it in on one side ; 
Syston and its junction completely seal it up on the 
other ; while houses and gardens nearly complete the 
square — and every chance crevice was now carefully 
stopped by the enthusiastic bystanders. But has 
there not ere this been a well-advertised Fox Hunt 
in Alexandra Park, attracting and delighting all the 
north of London ? Gate-money ventures are now 
quite the fashion of the day ; and Leicester has not 
been behind its fellows in appreciating the advantages 
of such enterprise. It has recently started a pro- 
sperous and well-paled race and steeplechase course ; 
its bicycle meetings attract many hundreds into a 
walled enclosure ; and even its volunteers in camp are 
only visible to the vulgar eye by payment. So far so 
good. But nothing seems more natural than that out 
of the enormous popularity of Friday's experiment a 
company should forthwith be formed — to inclose the 
withy bed and its surrounding fields and fences, and 
so bring fox-hunting with all its more exciting attri- 
butes within easy reach of the good burgesses who 
have no time to waste on the drudgery of distant and 
unreliable sport. For this purpose of course the 
promoters of the scheme meditate a pack and 
establishment of their own on a lavish and fitting 
scale, and with all the appurtenances of hunting in a 
wild country. There should be no difficulty, by the 
way, in procuring the hounds ; for on the last occasion 



THE OPENING DAY. 45 

on which I did myself the honour of visiting the 
pandemonium of Mr. W — , the well-known London 
hound-dealer, I found an extensive draft of hounds 
from one of our leading packs in the Shires (and indi- 
vidually not altogether unknown to me) just about to 
join a circus, in which they were to take a leading part 
in demonstrating the bright delights of fox-hunting ! 
The management of the undertaking now in prospect 
at Leicester urge on its behalf that there shall be no 
plough, no blind fences and no blank days, that 
topbars and topbinders shall drop to the touch, and 
that competitors shall not be restricted as to the 
number of hounds they may kill ; that each gentleman 
appearing in scarlet shall receive a handsome premium, 
and that no subscriptions to Hunt, Poultry or Covert 
funds, or any similar vexatious exactions, shall be for 
a moment entertained ; while any servant receiving a 
fee shall be summarily dismissed. Who shall say that 
these are not sterling advantages — and that the pro- 
motion of such an undertaking does not recommend 
itself to all who would see the love of sport diffused, 
and its conditions popularised ? To-day the entire 
spectacle was provided, a whole audience present and 
gratified, and a bevy of actors played their parts ; but 
no grist came to any mill, no handsome proceeds fell 
into the pockets of enterprising promoters. Still 
much was done to prove what might be effected in 
this direction — and the spectacle was as successful as 



46 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

it was suggestive. A fox was handsomely found ; 
was hunted for more than an hour coram omnibus ; 
and was duly killed, for the edification of the hundreds 
— without transgressing for a moment beyond the 
boundaries of the chosen arena. That the perform- 
ance should have been thus duly retained within 
bounds was on this occasion of course only a matter 
of happy fortune — but it shows what might be done 
here by judicious and competent management. 

Having catered thus for popular requirements, the 
Master took his hounds on to Scraptoft ; whence they 
showed their followers a thorough hunting run of an 
hou r . Though a ring, it was over beautiful country; 
and ended at a drain near Barkby Holt. 



CHAPTER V. 

MEN AND MANNERS. 

(@^HE best of Friday, November 9th, with the 
<5W§ Ouorn was after luncheon time (whenever 
that light but reviving repast may be held 
to have had its place) ; and in chase of a fox who 
had already been run for forty minutes. The fore- 
noon had been marked merely by such facts as John 
O'Gaunt owning only one fox, and that fox being 
haplessly chopped, by Cold Newton being colder 
than ever, by a Friday field assuming with delighted 
enthusiasm all its old turbulence, by the Master 
having a most difficult and anything but enviable 
time of it at the Coplow in consequence, and by 
the perversity of fate which put a shortrunning cub 
under the noses of hounds instead of one of the 
straightgoing rovers which also set forth from this 
famous stronghold. 

So the order was issued for Hungerton Foxholes ; 
a fox left this in view ; and after about three-quarters 
of an hour spent in circling very cheerily over some 
of the best of the Beeby and Hungerton neighbour- 



48 THE BEST SEASON OK RECORD. 

hood, he was pronounced to have gone to ground 
under a hovel. 

But while Reynard was being sought with spade 
and pick, he was quietly hatching his plan of escape. 
The drain he had entered was to all appearance a wet 
and uncomfortable refuge— from which, " poor thing," 
it was only a matter of charity to rescue him, at any 
cost to himself. Somehow he found a dry corner, 
and, still better, marked another bolthole at the back 
of the hovel. This done he composed himself for a 
quarter of an hour to get his wind and choose his 
opportunity — then slipped quietly out, and stole 
stealthily away, evading all eyes but a pair trained to 
keep watch at the sternest of all schools (the sea). 
But for this keen look-out to windward, the hunts- 
man and his employes might have quarried to the end 
of the claim, and — as has been known to happen in 
similar instances — have met with a blank yield. As 
it happened, the miners were quickly roused, and the 
hounds as quickly laid on — at the spot where Rey- 
nard's somewhat draggled brush had disappeared 
through a hedge of stupendous growth and thickness. 
Mr. Otho Paget bored vigorously into the thorns— 
and, after being retained half way for a much longer 
period than most good people dwell over their grace 
at dinner, wriggled out piecemeal on the other side. 
Two others accepted the blessing and returned thanks 
as they too scraped through the blinding thicket— 



MEN AND MANNERS. 49 

the rest cruised down in search of some opening more 
suited to their own fair faces and new November 
outfit. But as well gaze up at a wall of a prison-yard 
as seek mercy at the hands of a ten-year-old hedge 
left uncut on the best land in Keyham parish. The 
gallants who had laughed so gaily at the thorny 
plunge of young temerity now found themselves 
penned up in confusion and shame. Not all. For 
youth and blood were again forthcoming to serve 
them — and found its chance where any ordinary jury 
of hard riders would have promptly declared that 
none was possible. A tree had been cut away ; and 
according to the custom which creates all the tim- 
bered embrasures in the fences of the country, its 
place had been taken by three stout rails. Lapse of 
time had brought the boughs of the bullfinch almost 
together overhead — added to which, there was a wide 
ditch on the nearside, and the approach was dis- 
couragingly uphill. A "certainty ! " was the united if 
unuttered verdict. But a "certainty " is attached to 
the leadership of a forlorn hope — and many a man 
has come out of even that venture unscathed. The 
two forms of hazardous venture are dissimilar only in 
degree — the lesser to the great. But the same spirit 
prompts, the same material makes up, the man who, 
not in ignorance or inexperience but in jovial reck- 
lessness, is ready, as he would term it, to " have a 
shy " — while you and I curl up and look askance, as 



50 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

if we saw neither the opportunity nor each other. 
Well, the sturdy brown horse jumped as high as he 
could, and as far as he could ; the top rail broke 
under his girths — his head held him up for a while, 
his shoulders helped him to rise again, and he carried 
his bold master safely on — leaving the place almost 
as unattractive as before. Praised be Allah ! An- 
other of the same family was still at hand — somewhat 
chagrined, perhaps, that the pride of place had been 
so rudely taken from him by his big brother. But 
that no want of manners should be imputed to him, 
or to the family name, he left nothing whatever to 
stand in the way of all who might wish to follow. 
Such kindly self-sacrifice, however, deserved better 
fate than that he should have to pursue his charger 
for two long fields before the latter would consent to 
be returned to him. 

Meanwhile the fugitive from beneath the hovel was 
making the most of his new lease of life. Threading 
hedgerows and plantations by the brookside, he 
gained yard after yard upon his clamouring pursuers, 
and at the village of Bceby found himself quite capa- 
ble of once more flinging down the glove on the open. 
He should have been stiff and crippled with fatigue 
and wet. But his heart seemed to grow stouter, and 
his limbs work freer, with danger realised and love of 
life fully roused. In a word, he ran straighter, and 
hounds pressed him far harder now than when he was 



MEN AND MANNERS. Si 

first forced to run. From the village of Beeby he 
led them for a final twenty minutes as bright and 
brisk as — well, the beer of the Beeby brewery just 
passed. Over the hillside for Scraptoft were pretty 
grass fields, with some twenty men racing over them 
in the blinding sunlight — hounds glancing in sight 
only now and then like flying-fish in air. The very 
acme of a Leicestershire burst is — it always seems to 
me — when hounds go a little quicker than you can — 
yet when there is free space for every man and every 
horse to be doing his best, irrespective of others right 
and left or even in front. We don't see this every 
day. Either scent or country is generally lacking. 
But it is very delightful when it comes — and then, 
and then only, does a good hunter seem to be really 
at his best. 

A sweet valley runs up to Keyham — the grass as 
rank and the ditches as grossly overgrown as if the 
meadows had not been stocked (as I believe they had 
not) for a year past — and all hands scurried on as if a 
silver cup awaited the foremost. Gladly would we 
have seen one, filled with any cool compound, ere we 
had dipped under Keyham village, and mounted the 
hill beyond. Horses were blowing freely and hounds 
were a full field ahead— Crash, clatter — what has 
happened ? A dark horse down in the middle of a 
field, and a man surely gone to ground, somewhere. 
No, there's part of him at least has done being rolled 

E 2 



52 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

over — a round cheerful face, quite pleased with the 
situation, and leisurely bringing the rest of the remains 
out after it. Of good hard stuff must that man be 
made, I warrant me — and none the less that he rode 
so forward in no scarlet robe, nor, I daresay, nourishes 
his nerve and muscle on vintage '74 (the milk, they 
tell me, of the Melton dairy of to-day). 

But how the Ouorn lady pack gave other passing 
proof of its quality by tracking its beaten quarry 
down a road and at length chasing him to ground in 
a rabbit hole, was pretty enough in itself, but gives 
little more to tell. Thus it need merely be added, 
for the information of the many whose gauge of a run 
is its " point," that all the work and incident of the 
pursuit in question resulted in its ending at the very 
place from which it had started — Hungerton Fox- 
holes, to wit. 

On Monday morning last, November 12th, we first 
perceived that winter was upon us. A dense cold fog 
pervaded the valleys ; hoar frost had crystallised the 
hedges, had laid a thick silvery crust on the still 
green leaves, and now proceeded to play the same 
trick on our weatherworn locks as we wended a hard 
and slippery way to covert. The Ouorn meet was at 
Wartnaby ; and here, as soon as the higher and 
usually colder ground was reached, blue sky was 
overhead, and a bright sun bade circulation and 
spirits reassert themselves. There is no pleasin " 



MEN AND MANNERS. 53 

novelty in frozen fingers ; and a fox-hunter's toes 
are his most assailable members. The misery that 
intense cold calls forth in his extremities is apt to 
suffuse and stagnate his whole being — rendering 
neither his company nor his appearance a medium of 
joy to others. Some of us are of course more easily 
made cold, as some of us are more readily made cross 
— or have already been made uglier — than others. It 
maybe possible to combat these tendencies, especially 

the last . But this is a subject we need not open 

here : one section of these disagreeables, the cold, is 
tolerably certain to pursue us, with what degree of 
pertinacity remains to be seen, during the coming 
winter. 

Monday's was altogether a hill morning, on the 
heights of Holwell Mouth and Wartnaby. Hounds 
had to work as best they could, amid ironworks and 
waggonways more in keeping with Durham than 
Leicestershire — and if the scene had any fascination 
of its own it was to be found, not in a very meagre 
pursuit, not in the gangs of yellow fustianed workmen 
or their screaming clattering ballast train, but in the 
merry sunshine and the beauty-laden carriages that 
formed a show so rare and dazzling. 

So much for the morning. The afternoon began in 
little better fashion; but, under the influence of sturdy 
perseverance and a warming sun, improved steadily 
till quite a nice hunting run was evolved. 



54 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

The frost never quite left the ground ; and, while a 
fox contented himself with running [the hedgerows 
and the northern slopes of Old Dalby and neighbour- 
hood, hounds could just work out his twisting career 
with a certain amount of assistance. Moreover, he 
persisted in choosing his way as much as possible 
over cold and " enterpriseless " plough that seemed to 
laugh to scorn the zest and ambition of a very ride- 
loving field. Thus, it was only after he had travelled 
back by Saxelby Spinney, that he was forced to shape 
his route over grass ; and then, by easy stages, they 
hunted him to Welby Fishpond — forcing him out 
towards Kettleby Village. To shorten a long and 
uneventful story — a nice twenty minutes at good 
hunting pace took them back some three or four 
miles by Saxelby Spinney and Grimston Gorse to, 
and beyond, the outskirts of Dalby Wood — after 
which they hunted on for another mile or so through 
Lord Aylesford's Covert, losing their fox at the end 
of about an hour and forty minutes' hard and often 
uphill work. The run back had to be ridden in a 
sunny mist, which made hounds indistinguishable a 
field away — though their music might have been 
heard a mile in the still frosty air. Fences could not 
be judged at fifty yards distance ; and men were 
apparently content to follow each other in a string, 
the length and dilatoriness of which amply testified 
to the increasing strength of our daily parade. It is 



MEN AND MANNERS. 55 

no longer like October — when you might wait and 
crane as long as you liked, and make up all the lost 
ground again by as many minutes' hard galloping. 
Already — at least in such a strip of ground as that 
beneath Wartnaby, with its many gullies and old 
thorn-tree hedges — it is quite enough to get behind 
once, to ensure your maintaining a position in the 
rearguard for the rest of the journey. 

The later arrivals at Melton, by the way, since 
Kirby Gate, are Capt. Smith, Mr. J. Behrens, Mr. 
Gerald Paget, Mr. Q. D. Hume, and Mr. G. Lambton. 

The frost of Monday repeated itself on Tuesday, 
and established itself on Wednesday to a degree that, 
though it did not quite prohibit hunting, put both 
Coles Lodge with the Cottesmore and Waltham with 
the Belvoir in a far colder and less attractive light 
than either the merits of the fixtures or the time of 
year deserve. 

On Wednesday indeed the farmers could " cart 
mangold " without their waggon wheels making any 
impression on the soil — hardly the consistency we 
wish Mother Earth to have attained when our turn 
comes for submitting our feeble frames to her kindly 
embrace. 

One small paragraph I may be allowed to inter- 
polate — not to record a matter of history, but as a 
humble plea in the interest of us all. Gratuitously 
maybe, and certainly with no authority beyond that 



$6 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

of a sense of pressing necessity, I would implore 
fellow-sportsmen who hunt in the Shires — where the 
evil is more pronounced because many times multi- 
plied — to pay more, ten times more, attention to the 
farmers' property than they have ever been accus- 
tomed, or taught, to do ; and especially to spare seeds 
and wheat. The latter it is easy enough to see and 
generally to avoid, even with advantage to ourselves. 
But seeds — which one cannot but be glad to think are 
now growing on many hundreds of acres in the form 
of young grass for permanent pasture — these are much 
less readily discerned, and are apt to be treated with 
a lamentable want of consideration. Not every 
hunting-man was bred in a neighbourhood of open 
fields, or brought up in daily contact with the healthy 
technicalities of agriculture. But to whatever sphere 
he may have been born, he owes it to himself, he 
owes it equally to his comrades, and he owes it a 
hundredfold more to the men over whose ground he 
rides — to stoop to the acquirement of at least the 
power of distinguishing between the crops he can 
damage and the land that will take no harm. Every 
articled pupil in the craft of fox-hunting should at all 
events be competent to recognise at a glance wheat, 
" seeds," and " winter beans " — and having acquired 
this rudimentary knowledge ought to be prepared to 
put it in force by avoiding them on every possible 
occasion. A man may by chance jump into a field of 



MEN AND MANNERS. $7 

either kind unawares ; but, finding himself there, can 
at least ride the furrow or cling to the hedgeside, 
besides (in all unselfishness) deterring others from 
following his unlucky example. Wheat is, perhaps, 
less easily harmed than the other two crops, and many 
good authorities will even argue that it is altogether 
impervious to injury from this cause. But farmers at 
any rate are all more or less susceptible on the point 
of its being needlessly ridden over — if only on the 
score of its appearance for weeks afterwards. And it 
certainly does not behove us to weigh the pros and 
cons of the case for them, or balance our convenience 
against their established opinion concerning their own 
property. As to young clover and other grasses, and 
still more sprouting beans, they cannot be too care- 
fully shunned ; and not only is it a paramount duty 
on the part of all hunting-men personally to fight shy 
of them, but it is indeed a matter of urgent necessity, 
as well as of self-interest, that they should insist that 
their second horsemen (by nature the most reckless, 
by habit the most careless, of the followers of the 
chase) also take heed of where they ride. The latter 
class might well (as the master of the Quorn recently 
pointed out) assist to minimise damage and annoy- 
ance, instead of adding to either. And by care of the 
farmers' interests they will very greatly serve those of 
their own employers. 




CHAPTER VI. 

BAGGRAVE. 

MUST be allowed to go back beyond the 
m|| storm-beaten experiences of the past few days 
^ for the main subject of my weekly theme. 
Till the rain-clouds disperse, till the driving wind 
stays its hand, and weather and barometer return to 
steadier courses, we dare scarcely hope for a renewal 
of sport. Already the ground is wetter than it 
usually is in January ; every furrow is a small canal, 
every hollow is a pool ; and brooks and rivers have 
been constantly over their banks. At present the 
wet slush has little holding power, and horses move 
through it easily enough. But as the ground sucks 
the water in, and the turf, as it soon will, becomes 
like peat over a bog, we shall speedily hear the old 
cry of " The deepest season on record." 

Friday, November 16th, with the Quorn. — The 
very name of Baggrave Hall on the fixture-cards 
could not but suggest vivid memories of the late 
General Burnaby. How much more then did thought 
recur in this direction as hounds once more clustered 
in front of the grey building, whence for years past 



BAGGRAVE. 59 

the kindliest and most hospitable of men was wont 
to offer greeting and cordial welcome. In General 
Burnaby the Quorn hunt lost one of its most zealous 
supporters — hundreds of us lost a staunch unselfish 
friend. If a kindness could be done, he was the one 
to seize the chance of doing it. If a neighbour, or 
even an acquaintance, could be served, General 
Burnaby's time, interest, and talent were at his dis- 
posal ; and trouble, however prolonged, at however 
great a cost of convenience to himself, was no more 
grudged than if the service in question had been 
merely a grateful filling up of idle moments. One of 
the busiest men in England, whether as soldier, 
politician, landlord, or country gentleman, General 
Burnaby was in all capacities and at all times quite 
as fully occupied in forwarding the aims and interests 
of others, as even in pushing on the various and com- 
prehensive schemes that he made his own. Most of 
the latter, indeed, were works directly designed to 
benefit others — witness, for instance, the Annual 
Military Tournament (in aid of the Cambridge 
Soldiers' Orphans' Asylum) which under his originat- 
ing talent and management has achieved such a vast 
position. His capable mind and busy genius gave 
him an easy mastery over every subject he undertook, 
and over all who might be called upon to work with 
him. In the same way, every man who came across 
him in the ordinary course of country life found in 



60 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

him a courteous considerate comrade and friend 
— and now esteems his death a grievous personal loss. 

Of the various stirring runs that we have in recent 
years witnessed from the Prince of Wales Gorse (the 
first sod of which was turned by our gracious and 
sport-loving Prince on the occasion of the monster 
meet at Baggrave, March, 1871) it has been my happy 
lot to witness and recount several. The gorse itself 
was nipped by frost when the icy hand of death was 
already placing its grasp round the heart of him who 
had planted it. The rest of the little covert remains 
in the shape of the original spinney— and we revisited 
it to-dav with something of a chill at our hearts. 

But many of you to whose lot it has fallen to 
attend a soldier's funeral know well the military 
custom by which, as soon as the volleys are fired, and 
a handful or two of earth have rattled on the coffin 
lid of a comrade, the mourners fall in, the ranks 
reform, the band — that but a few minutes before was 
wailing forth the most touching of all sad melodies, 
the Dead March in " Saul " — at once strikes merrily 
up to a lively march — heads are raised — and we all 
step gaily out, laying aside the recent sorrow, and 
ready again to make the most of all that is bright 
in life. 

So though there was many a sad thought and 
many a mournful mention of the dead as the scene of 
the Quorn Hunt Picture was reproduced on Friday, 



BAGGRAVE. 6 1 

men's hearts rose eagerly and joyously as ever, 
directly the scream of the whipper-in caught their 
ears and they were called upon to ride once more on 
the track of a fox from the Baggrave covert. A 
right good fox too ; and one that suffered nothing by 
comparison with his predecessors. On the contrary, 
he initiated the occupancy of the new resident with 
singular felicity — bidding us learn that a successor is 
aptly and worthily carrying out the dearest wishes of 
him we have lost. (The covert, by the way, is to be 
replanted ; and the Prince of Wales " Gorse " will in 
future exist in the form of less perishable black- 
thorn.) 

Yes, a brace of foxes were found in the Spinney — 
one fell into hounds' mouths at once, the other had to 
bend his flight whither he could, and make his point 
afterwards as opportunity might offer. So, as he 
broke away towards Barkby Holt, we were released 
from our station at the opposite corner, to labour 
round over rough ridge-and-furrow — wondering the 
while whether we should ever see hounds again, 
whether if we did our horses would have any wind 
left in them, whether labour was very cheap in the 
days when the tillers of the soil thus distorted the 
face of the earth, whether we had not chosen the 
wrong way round, with a dozen other relevant and 
irrelevant speculations. For ridge-and-furrow that 
is deep enough to reduce each stride of a horse to a 



62 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

limited unit, like a note of a piano as compared to 
that of fiddle or flute, inflicts on the rider a prolonged 
period of thought and anxiety that is positively dis- 
tressing. Fast horses and slow horses, short backs 
and long backs, good shoulders and bad — all seemed 
to make about equal speed over the chopping sea — 
and now we had circled the covert to find hounds 
driving up the wind a field away. For a few minutes 
they beat even the men who cut their way to them as 
they bent — and this, though neither bullfinch, rail, 
nor high-built fence was shirked in favour of the 
ready gates. Your humble servant happened, by 
what chance matters not, to be brought up alongside 
one of these fences as the rush came on, affording 
such an opportunity of observing the mimic battle as 
is seldom given to a sharer in the fray. One would 
have thought that the sternest scene of warfare was 
being enacted, so determined and desperate did most 
of the combatants seem, as two and three abreast 
they charged home — with hats tightly pressed down, 
brows darkening, teeth hard set, and eyeballs starting 
out of their heads. They had not a smile among 
them ! To do or die, was the single written ex- 
pression, even on features seldom seen otherwise than 
moving in merriment. The veteran, the beginner, 
the pilot, the follower- — all alike looked serious, glum 
and defiant. They were raking down-hill at a rasp- 
ing fence ; habit and experience not only bade them 



BAGGRAVE. 



63 



concentrate all their energies, but whispered that a 
failure might involve unwelcome consequences — and 
in the preoccupation of the moment they deemed 
themselves alone and unobserved. Mark the change 
the moment the rapids were shot, the rocks left 
behind. A seraphic smile in almost every instance 









: 9Sm 




'mzm-i^^if^^^^^^^^^^'"- 



'• DETERMINED AND DESPERATE." 



softened the stern and rigid features. Once they 
found themselves in smooth water, tight-drawn lips 
and wrinkled brows relaxed, light came into their 
eyes — and ere a dozen strokes had been accom- 
plished men were themselves again, genial, warm and 
careless beings. 

Suddenly there was a pause ; the hunted fox was 
found to have been headed right back to the place of 



64 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

starting ; and, with faces already flushed and hot, the 
field clustered once more at Baggrave Spinney. 
Away again five minutes later, over the grass fields 
behind the Hall, and so to the osier bed beyond. To 
gallop through this, and cross its brook by a bridge, 
was one safe route. To shoot what is known as Carr 
Bridge involved a few hundred yards detour ; but 
gave the next mile (all uphill as it was to either 
division) on tolerable turf instead of on soppy plough. 
Medio tutissimus ibis applied well enough to the 
huntsman's course ; for he brought both hindlegs 
after him with only a scramble ; while the three next 
comers, who would gladly have availed themselves of 
the lead, remained spurring and vociferating on the 
bank, till after all they had to pocket their pride and 
dash off to follow the others over the little bridge. 
There was a capital scent, or hounds could not have 
crossed those cold wet ploughs so rapidly (for even 
on the best scenting days of this autumn the arable 
has scarcely ever carried a serviceable scent). At the 
high road on the brow (Queniboro' to Tilton) the 
parties reunited, and the pack, for a moment, divided. 
But almost immediately hounds and horsemen were 
all set going again, in full swing down the grass lands 
of the Twyford parish — and this was the best of the 
burst. A goodly many — prominent among whom 
Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Chaplin, Mr. Brocklehurst, Mr. 
Pennington, Capt. Smith, Lord Manners, M. Des- 



BAGGRAVE. 6$ 

champs, Capt. Boyce, Capt. Ashton, with the Master 
and others (not omitting a farmer, Mr. Gilson, on a 
slashing young one), were helping to make history 
repeat itself — rode fast in the track of hounds, as the 
latter struck the Ashby and Twyford brook at the 
only point at which it is fordable. Into the adjoining 
road some high, but easily broken, palisades offered a 
better chance of keeping near the racing pack than a 
tempting gate on the left. The next field had its ox- 
rail well hidden on the farther side ; but an oxer 
down hill is not necessarily very awesome — albeit the 
deep galloping was beginning to tell, and the rail 
went off like a big gun as the hero of a hundred 
fights came heavily on it. There is no more curious 
feature in fox-hunting than the constant faculty 
evinced by the fox of taking his followers a practic- 
able line even over the most difficult country. Again 
the chase struck a bridge — the only opening for a 
mile by which riders could possibly have crossed a 
deep unjumpable bottom. And only two fields 
further, hounds turned at right angles alongside — and 
so avoided — a double oxer that no horse in Leicester- 
shire could have covered. 

Thus a merry half hour brought us to Ashby 
Pastures— the strong covert of Thorpe Trussels hav- 
ing been left just to the right. In a quarter of an 
hour more, luncheon and congratulations were being 
interchanged, by the side of a drain close to Cream 

F 



66 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

Gorse ; and about ten minutes later — as the hunts- 
man was about to throw hounds into the gorse in 
search of a fresh fox — the run one bolted of his own 
accord. A stout-hearted hardy fellow, the latter went 
bravely forward ; but this time preferred the colder 
plough to the grass that had been made so warm 
for him. So, slowly and with little incident — if we 
except the wide string of catastrophes that decked a 
broad watercourse on the way — he was once more run 
to ground (about a mile from Melton), and there left. 

Saturday, the 17th, was, as you remember, a grue- 
some day ; and if fate took you out either with the 
Belvoir or the Ouorn, you found little to reward you 
for facing the snow and rain. 

Monday, the 19th, with the last-named pack at Rat- 
cliffe-on-the-Wreake, was again stormy and scentless. 
Very little could in consequence be done with the 
young foxes at Walton Thorns ; though late in the 
day a weakly one was easily killed from Lord 
Aylesford's Covert, leaving unfortunately his blood- 
stain in Grimston Gorse. 

Tuesday, the 20th, was sharp, cold, and rough, but 
by all accounts more favourable to scent. The Ouorn 
(who would seem to have come in for all the sport so 
far) had an excellent forty minutes from a little corner 
of their country (beyond Leicester) into that of Sir 
Bache Cunard. They found at Narborough Bog 
(though how a fox could have found a dry kennel in 



BAGGRAVE. 67 

that morass after the recent floods would be puzzling 
indeed, but that foxes are so often known to harbour 
on little islets of ground which they have to swim to 
reach); and they ran an excellent line to Peatling. 

Wednesday, the 21st, was, in point of weather, com- 
fort, and sport, a more than fairly representative day 
of the current week. Rain and tempest followed us 
to covert, and persecuted us at intervals throughout the 
day — culminating in the fierce anomaly of a Novem- 
ber thunderstorm, which cleared the air at once for 
a bout of hot sunshine. With such wild contrarieties 
of weather, how could there be sport ? And accord- 
ingly there was none — or very little. The ride, or 
drive, from Melton to Croxton Park is habitually one 
of the coldest experiences of the week. To-day it 
possessed the additional attraction of being one of the 
wettest. Five miles further to draw a covert — "and 
yet we were not happy." But discontent had no 
place when covert-coats could be stripped off in such 
cheery company as ever constitutes the field with the 
Duke of Rutland's hounds, and when that beautiful 
pack is busy in covert, bidding us be ready to Go. 
But I have no excuse for dwelling over Wednesday. 
The Coston Covert fox clung closely to the im- 
mediate neighbourhood of his home, till he could get 
back to the main earth. This, however, is excellently 
arranged, so that — as we have seen on a dozen 
occasions — a terrier can always be brought into play. 



68 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

And this time we got as far as Buckminster, under all 
difficulties. The entire field had spent a consider- 
able period during the run tightly packed in some 
hovels — while thunder growled overhead and rain 
came down like a waterspout. One section of them 
discovered, after leading as many horses under shelter 
as their hovel would accommodate, that they had 
overlooked the presence of a bull in an obscure 
corner. The bull was a young and very peaceably 
disposed beast ; and kept his temper admirably till a 
horse backed on to him — when he set to work with a 
will to cut his way out. The horses got frightened ; 
so did the men. The former began to kick, the latter 
to choke on their half-swallowed luncheon — and, in 
brief, there was the devil to pay. The noise was 
alarming ; while the bull stuck steadily to his task, 
and at length issued in triumph from under the girths 
of one of the best-looking hunters from Grantham. 
Beyond the shock to the nervous system of the com- 
pany generally, and a few sounding kicks that kept 
time to the prods administered by the bull in his 
passage out, I believe no ill results ensued ; though I 
doubt if any of the party will care to be included in 
similar society again. 

An afternoon fox from Buckminster was afterwards 
followed smartly over the heath country for three or 
four miles — leaving the Melton division to wend a 
weary way homeward nearly from Stoke Rochfort. 



CHAPTER VII. 

BARKBY GORSE TO TILTON. 

R. BROMLEY 
DAVENPORT, 

your vivid lines 

once stood me 

in good stead 

— when you 

set every hunt- 

[ ing-man in 

England aglow 

with your pro- 

"M" phetic idyll of 

km atlM "A gallop from 

T%: |3Sf "%^ : Ranksboro' 

^M^^tX)r%C.^ Gorse," and in 

j^fe. "7 '*** '"' ' - • the following 

f/'/^ i ,iU weekmyfeeble 







pen was exer- 
cised in telling 
how the augury had been fulfilled, the allegory 
reduced to fact, in the great Ranksboro' Run of 
January 13th, 1877 There must surely be some- 



70 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

thing in the coincidence that now again I had been 
revelling overnight in the power and thrill of your 
picture of Foxhunting (painted a few months ago in 
the Nineteenth Century) ; and the very next day 
brought forth living illustration, in fit sequel to your 
stirring flight of fancy. May your spirit be with me 
while I strive to sketch the incidents of this last 
great gallop that you have seemed to prompt. Other 
men say they have seen no such run for three years. 
Certainly I, in my humble capacity of recorder, have 
assisted at nothing like it in seasons lately past. 

The morning of Friday, November 23rd, was 
bright, sharp, and sunny. Rime frost still lingered 
by the roadside while the road itself still remained in 
what might be termed rattling condition for the many 
carriages that rolled into Rearsby Village — the half- 
way house twixt Leicester and Melton — the meet of 
Ouorn, and the place of gathering of all who could 
ride or drive from either town and from the country 
between. The busy merchant, the smart Meltonian, 
the thriving tradesman, the struggling farmer, the 
county magnate, the soldier on leave, with many 
another of lofty and lowly grade, mingled to form the 
largest meet of the early season. Brougham, victoria, 
buggy, ponytrap and taxcart— not excepting many 
samples of that wondrous Leicester conveyance 
wherein one couple look straight to their front, while 
immediately behind them another look straight in 



BARKBY GORSE TO TILTON. 7 1 

each other's face, as if equally ready to fight, flirt, or 
play cribbage — all brought their burden of beauty or 
their contribution to the chase. But, apart from the 
social aspect and variety of the scene, enhanced, as it 
was, by the quiet loveliness of the morning and the 
picturesque attributes of Mr. Woodcock's pretty resi- 
dence amid the elm trees, there was something in the 
air that spoke of sterling vigorous sport. Why else 
should one and all of us> — knowing little, if anything, 
of the mystery of scent, and daily learning only that 
we know less — have exclaimed " There'll be a run to- 
day ? " The spirit of instinct chimed in with the 
fostering wish — and the outcome was more than we 
had dared to hope. 

The day began with a pleasant five-and-twcnty 
minutes' ring from Gaddesby Spinney, performed in 
the closely fenced area of Barsby parish, and ended 
by the fox getting to ground at Queniborough 
Spinney, close to which he was found. In this little 
hunt alone we had jumped enough fences to con- 
stitute a day's work for a horse in many countries ; but 
it was early yet for second horses, and many a man 
forbore to change — who would gladly have had that 
first freshness under him when, a little while hence, 
the struggle came. Casualties both to horse and man 
occurred, even in this short pursuit. They are never 
pleasant subjects for record. But the accident by 
which Lord Lanesborough lost a valuable horse was 



72 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

as curious as it was untoward. While galloping down 
a turnip-field (one of perhaps three pieces of plough 
crossed during the day), and looking over the hedge 
at the hounds running beyond, he rode chest-on 
against the handle of a horse-hoe, which pierced his 
horse to the heart — the shock sending the rider on to 
his face on the ground. The horse stood for one 
moment over his master, deluging him with blood ; 
then, rearing straight on end, fell dead beside him. 

Barkby Gorse, a square covert of some half-dozen 
acres, immediately adjoins the well-known Barkby 
Holt, a green and muddy lane alone separating the 
two. The slightest possible breeze was blowing from 
the west ; and the Master marshalled his field on the 
windward side. Not until every rider had taken his 
place, were hounds thrown into covert ; thus the good 
fox at home was well on his legs before the time of 
trial came, and then he was free to travel whither he 
would upon the wind. The first cheer starts him off; 
the first scream sets the lively ladies of Quorndon 
romping on his footprints. Two ant-hilly grass fields 
give them room to settle and time to close up — while, 
as thickly packed as antelope on the veldt, the herd 
of horsemen bound over the low rail fencing and pick 
their way hurriedly, or gallop right recklessly, over 
the knotted turf. Now the pent throng squeezes 
through a gate, to cross the one acre of fallow that 
they will see for many a mile ; now they dribble one 



BARKBY GORSE TO TILTON. 



73 



by one through a low gap that we recognize only too 
fearfully and well. A deep little ditch is set under 
the grass at the exact distance to catch a free jumping 
horse — and often as we have had to cross it in hurry- 
ing away from Barkby Holt, we have never known 
the tiny but too effectual trap to be without its 




"turning a terrible summersault over each." 

victims. The Master and Mr. Gerald Paget are 
claimed for its own to-day — and a fall in such a 
gallop would seem to be fatal to loss of place more 
certainly even than in a National Hunt Steeple- 
chase ! * For several fields the good chestnut that 
should be carrying one of them is to be viewed rising 

* Readers will remember that in the Grand National Hunt Steeple- 
chase (1883) in the neighbourhood of Melton, with twenty-three 
starters, even the winner fell once, and refused once. 



74 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

gallantly at each fence in turn — but, his fore-leg 
being through the bridle rein, turning a terrible 
summersault over each. 

We had seen this morning (it is but 12.50 yet) that 
hounds could run even before the hoar frost was off — 
but we were scarcely prepared for a scent so ravishing 
as now. Foot-people are holloaing lustily over the 
brow towards Baggrave. Hounds want their help no 
more than they regard their distraction ; but, swing- 
ing towards the sound, dash through a flock of sheep 
as if coursing their fox by sight. The silly sheep run 
after them to the fence, and block the way till the pack 
has earned a field to the good. Mr. Hugo Campbell 
crashes through the timber the moment they give him 
opening ; while Count Kinsley makes his first appear- 
ance in public in his well-known character of pioneer, 
almost simultaneously on the right. Mr. Hames 
dives sturdily through the next bullfinch ; and so, 
by friendly offices, the way is made plain and easy — 
and all we want at present are legs to go faster. The 
pack, meanwhile, might be going upon wings. Yonder 
is Baggrave Spinney, and yonder are hounds just 
disappearing into it — -while, a full furlong behind, the 
foremost riders are looking twice at a strong post- 
and-rail. Second thoughts, however, follow rapidly 
on second looks — and it is anything but a terrible 
place after all. The huntsman cuts at once through 
the middle ride of the little covert ; several men strain 



BARKBY GORSE TO TILTON. 75 

round the lower side ; but those on the upper have a 
straighter course and a better view. " Are they 
through ? " " Not yet— but they very soon will be, if 
this fox is worth his salt." {Worth his salt, indeed! 
He will put your strength to the test, ere he has done 
with you, gallant gentlemen.) There they go — see 
those white streaks flashing uuder the far hedge. 
Half the pack only — for a fresh fox before their noses 
has turned the other half from the line. The horn, 
with its unmistakeable formrd-away, catches up many 
of these stragglers — but, strive as they will, theirs will 
yet be a long stern chase. Already the leading 
couples are half across the park, ere even the readiest 
gallopers have slipped on from the covert, and cut the 
corner-fence opposite the Hall. Again are foot-people 
shouting ; and again is Reynard turned a hundred 
yards (the utmost he will diverge through his five-mile 
course). " Left ! Left ! ! or the park wire will hold 
you ! " This is a moment when 'tis useful to know the 
country — though more often such knowledge is a 
snare, a source of shirking, and a fruitful cause of 
needless terror. Through the heavy gate and over 
the rough and broken pasture — the already slender 
band of riders are bearing uphill towards the little 
pack, the latter beating horses yard by yard. A clean 
oxer, a scratchy bullfinch where the ox-rail lies 
broken, or a single flight of timber — there are three 
courses open to you, some fifty yards apart. The 



76 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

Count seizes the first, Capt. Smith, Mr. A. Brockle- 
hurst, and M. Deschamps the last ; while three or 
four others squeeze under the tree, and recover their 
dangling hats as best they may. A steep sudden dip 
in the ground, with a grass-covered rivulet running 
below — a horse half blown, with an indifferent mouth 
and a pronounced aversion to anything flapping 
about him — these scarcely make up the time and 
circumstance that we would willingly select for the 
pastime of fishing for chimney-pots. (Oh, who will 
join a society — it must be influential and numerous — 
for donning caps, for doffing swallowtails in favour of 
lengthy flaps, and for relegating breeches tapes to — 
the provinces ?) 

Now again the going, though deep and tiring, is 
smooth and fair. The great grass fields are some 
forty acres apiece ; the ridge-and-furrow for a wonder 
lies all the right way ; each valley has an easy fence, 
each gentle rise discloses hounds just gliding over the 
next — or gives the rear guard a similar glance at 
those riding in the van. Gallop as you can, and 
squeeze as you will, you may keep pace with the tail 
hounds that left Baggrave with or behind you ; but 
not an inch will you or they gain on those racing 
couples in front. There is little to tell of these two 
miles after Baggrave covert — as far as distant ken 
and immediate aftertalk warrant my story — beyond 
that galloping, ceaseless, grinding galloping, formed 



BARKBY GORSE TO TILTON. JJ 

the essence* and criterion. On the broad hillside 
between Lowesby and Quenby hounds flash momen- 
tarily beyond a smeuse — one old lady (Dahlia, I am 
told), alone striking through, to cross a deep boggy 
bottom which a dastard memory, rising only to the 
call of cowardice, recognizes readily. It might have 
come right in the stride, and been left to us as a mere 
harmless trifle by those who went before — led, as we 
should have been, by the ex-Carabineer just appear- 
ing over the low stile adjacent, and by the huntsman 
now rolling over the same. What do we find ? 
Twenty men huddled in a corner — forty more flock- 
ing thither. A plantation on the left, a cross fence 
on the right — new timber in front, where once was an 
open chasm, of itself quite equal to putting us down 
in years gone by — as more than one can sorrowfully 
vouch. Ten yards of low plashed hedge completes 
the corner ; the gulf is of unknown breadth, of well- 
known depth ; the opposite bank rises precipitately ; 
the huntsman's cheer has thrown hounds forward after 
the yellow bitch — and we don't like the prospect at 
all ! But the last week or so has brought back a man 
whose office in life — after the well-being of his master 
and the well-doing of the latter's young horses — 
would seem to lie in assisting us all, in difficulties and 
out of difficulties. So once again Downs is to the 
front. The chestnut four-year-old accepts the task 
right willingly ; jumps as far as he can ; and, now on 



yS THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

his knees, now on his nose, finally on his legs, 
recovers everything but his wind — which, or as much 
of it as prudence will allow, is found to be exhausted 
after another half mile. The rector of Stonesby, 
scarcely needing this encouragement, drops his chest- 
nut in turn into the pit, and he too scrambles up the 
bank without a fall. The huntsman's bay mare does 
equally well for herself and rider ; but also does quite 
her share in churning up the quagmire. Capt. Smith 
is down ; M. Deschamps is not ; Mr. Pennington 
falls ; Mr. Brocklehurst keeps his legs, and so does 
Capt. Ashton. One after another now they come 
rolling over — each casualty conducing to the next — 
the crowd fuming and fretting almost in silence (we 
are gentle in our savagery in Leicestershire) — and 
hounds arc fleeting far away To avoid the choking 
breach, Mr. Fred. Gosling turns over the side fence ; 
and, overgrown and untempting as the gully seems in 
its upward course, he finds it after all much easier 
than where the crowd is hindering itself. The same 
result attends the efforts of other searchers lower 
down. JUit all this, direct and indirect, unavoidable 
and part of a chapter of accidents, is taking time — 
time that cannot be regained, till all the object of 
recovering it is gone — time that, as distinct from 
hurry, constitutes the economy, indeed the basis of 
riding a gallop to hounds. Meanwhile there are now 
thirteen couples a full half mile ahead — speeding 



BARKBY GORSE TO TILTON. 79 

onward like the brief moments that have to counter- 
balance and quicken the many dull days of existence. 
Fcrrard, you beauties ! Life is happiness while we 
can hang on your skirts o'er the merry green grass. 
" Open the gate, sir, if you can ; or take the young 
one's neck off it, and turn him round to the wind !" 
'Tis seldom we ride this beautiful line, by the side of 
the Lowesby brook, where the fences are old and half 
decayed, and the turf so sound. " Hilly and wet," we 
may term it, under the test of a twenty minutes' race, 
and a start that we cannot keep. As a matter of 
fact, the ground is excellent riding — but hounds have 
no weight to carry — and, reader, your tailor will tell 
you (in language more delicate and acceptable, no 
doubt) that you do not girth as you did in 1873. 
Your groom (who has always a turn for humour, if 
allowed to indulge in anything so disrespectful) might 
term it " girthing better" 1 — but you deem it otherwise, 
and your opinion is likely to be stoutly confirmed if, 
with fourteen stone and a bittock, you are now 
contending with hounds to reach Lowesby Station. 
The latter is one of the many blots now disfiguring a 
land that erst flowed only with the milk and honey — - 
the cream and spice — of fox-hunting. It has estab- 
lished itself in the once sacred vicinity of John o' 
Gaunt — an outpost of the Mahdi of progress as 
typified in the G.N.R. Hounds dash across its very 
precincts, bringing up the huntsman and his little 



80 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

following short in their tracks. Mr. Brocklehurst, 
M. Deschamps, Capt. Ashton, Mr. Cochrane, jun., 
Rev. Seabrooke and Lord Manners — not a large 
proportion of that big " Friday field." The station- 
master joins keenly in the sport, and waves his gold 
laced headpiece with frantic zeal, to point the fox's 
line and the way over, with the most confusing 
impartiality. At length the leaders realize that their 
only means of passing across the railway lies a full 
field back, where a " cattle crossing " runs under the 
embankment. Thither they hurry at the best speed 
their panting horses can raise — to find the white 
railway gate already besieged by another little force, 
intent upon raising it from its hinges. " One more 
man ! " roars the colonel, as he and his confederates 
nearly break their backs in futile effort. Six more 
men furnish effectual reinforcement ; and the whole 
struggle up the Tilton hill — to find the pack hovering 
on the summit, above Large's Spinney. Five miles 
they have come, as straight as hounds or the crow 
could fly — the time half an hour, to a minute or so 
either way. Hitherto it has been a point-to-point 
steeplechase. Now hounds must hunt round Tilton 
Village, nearly to Tilton Wood, and up the wooded 
peak of Colborough Mill. The navvies are at work 
about Tilton Station close at hand, and already are 
shouting in wild chorus. But navvies always yell 
when they see a red coat — so this may only be their 



BARKBY GORSE TO TlLTON. 



8t 



playful way of welcoming us. They have cried Fox 
so often, that now we may well be chary of belief. 
But this time the fox is really among them — actually 
running down the platform and along the metals, 
with his tongue out, his back up, and his brush 






V ,Ar- 







A RATTLING RUN. 



dragging low. Half a dozen hounds bring his line 
down to the station — but, alas, alas ! the others are 
away in the opposite direction, running hard on a 
fresh fox. 

Thus, though the huntsman at length comes back 
from the borders of Owston Wood, and, in the vain 
endeavour to pick up his beaten fox, works up to 

G 



82 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

Robin*a-Tiptoe, the end of this great good run is not 
to be signalised with blood. A seven-mile point is no 
every*day occurrence here, whatever it may be in 
other, perhaps more fortunate, shires — and this gallop 
had a dozen happier qualities than its point. I have 
only to add — what most of us will deem a welcome 
equivalent to a kill — that our gallant fox lay 
exhausted on the Tilton railway, till the platelayers 
caught and put him unharmed into a bag. He was 
then conveyed back to Baggrave, where under the 
tender care of Mr. Muggleton, he shortly recovered 
not only strength but appetite — and is now again at 
large, to give us another such gallop. 




CHAPTER VIII. 

HILL AND DALE. 

JIFTY-FIVE minutes — a good old orthodox 
time — and a kill in the open. This was the 
run — or, rather, the second run — of the Quorn 
on Monday, December 3rd. A brilliant gallop and 
an excellent hunt, it presented by no means un- 
broken sameness throughout — as I will endeavour to 
explain as we go. 

The woodcutters had been at work in Thrussington 
Wolds — a forty-acre wood, and perhaps the best 
natural covert of the Quorn north of the Wreake. 
Thus a find seemed unlikely from the first ; and by 
the time Firr had worked his way nearly to the far 
end of the deep inner ride, thought and speculation 
were forward with the next probable draw — or turn- 
ing to the man with the belt, who ought to be at hand 
and probably wasn't. 

Almost at our very feet among the fallen fir trees 
there was a sudden unmistakeable challenge ; another 
and another. Here he comes ! Hush ! for heaven's 
sake, or he'll be chopped ! The lathy brown form is 
making its way right up to the group of horsemen at 

g 2 



84 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD, 

the cottage corner. Hounds are all round him as he 
hesitates and raises his white mask inquiringly. By 
Jove, he's a bold one ! A dash for the hedge, and he 
is away down the wind— defying alike the fifty pair 
of eyes of which he has to run the gauntlet, and the 
eighteen couple of noisy ladies making merry over 
his departure. Dark, cold, and drizzly is the day — a 
keen contrast to the weather that has served us up 
such sport in the past fortnight. The high-level 
country, too, above Ragdale is a cold wet soil, that in 
farming parlance will " scarcely carry a goose to the 
acre." But still, and again, there is a rattling scent ; 
and — what is nine points of the essential law of a run 
— hounds are away on the back of their fox. 

Everybody who would could get a start to-day ; 
and with this advantage— in addition to that of a line 
in itself not too difficult, and rendered still more easy 
by the propinquity of a parallel road into which men 
could drop at almost any minute — almost everyone 
might see part or whole of the run in question. 
Many of us, even most of us (our conscience may bid 
us confess) rode to men rather than to hounds during 
part of those first flying sixteen minutes across the 
flat to Dalby Wood ; others were probably baffled 
and hindered by the ironstone-waggon way on the 
Dalby hillside ; and many more were certainly blown 
and beat after climbing the heights of Little Belvoir 
and pulling out our timepieces to settle eight-and- 



HILL AND DALE. 85 

twenty minutes as the reckoning to the first slight 
check. Yes, we were all near enough to keep the 
watch at work to-day ; and, as we had one and all 
failed to take the time in the great run of Friday 
week, each of us remembered to mark it to a second 
to-day. 

But I have wandered away from hounds at that 
most critical, most crucial of all moments — the start. 
The bustling ladies are getting together over the wet 
rough meadow that bounds the covert ; and men are 
rapidly trooping forth from the wood — mentally gird- 
ing up their loins and bracing their sinews for the 
coming tussle. That they all pull back in their 
tracks as hounds swing suddenly across their very 
faces directly the earliest fence is jumped, is, I ven- 
ture to think, as much a credit to their own per- 
ception of the necessities of the moment as a tribute 
to discipline and daily habit. Had the fall of their 
squadron leader been the signal for an immediate 
halt, they could not have reined in shorter. The 
white horse is caught and the rider remounted ere the 
forward movement is, almost instantly, renewed. A 
horrid fall it looked, as the two heads ploughed the 
field together — that of the weaker mortal undermost. 
But he was 'listed when men were held to be men, 
even at forty — and when twenty years' service was 
believed to season good leather, not to wear it out. 
So the crumpler makes little difference, save as a 



86 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

wholesome lesson to the grey — who will take care not 
to repeat the offence of fancying himself still in 
Northshire, where rails will break easily and hedges 
are to be brushed haphazard. Over short chopping 
ridges and wet sedgey furrows we are fairly set going. 
Who knows how long it may last ? Who knows but 
we are merely hurrying over one rough field that we 
may have to pull up in the next ? Who is such a 
fool as to be left behind ? Who will not make the 
most of what the gods give him — and take his fate, 
or punishment to-morrow ? Hounds are beyond all 
reach of mischief, shooting out of sight through the 
high black hedges. The deep sticky ground will 
keep us — you on your thoroughbred, me on my 
lumbering Pegasus — well removed from mischief till 
the steel is out of us both, and out of that dusky 
brush besides. You ride honestly in their wake. I 
plunge at the corner, for the light green turf that 
shimmers through the bullfinch and that I know will 
carry old Hairyheels far better than the clay you 
skim so lightly. Yo-oi ! We pull up together at the 
lane above Ragdale ; the lissome pack darts through 
a tiny spinney ; and we drive onwards over the most 
unsaintly pasture in Leicestershire, where the ridge- 
and-furrow would seem to have been built for a 
chessboard, with anthills thrown on it as pieces. Not 
a hole in the black bullfinch in front — so we must 
pull to the right — in luck or gunning avoiding the 



HILL AND DALE. 87 

plough — dash down its cart track with due gratitude 
for the mud-favours showered from the front, and 
make up what ground wc can over more wet grass 
beyond. Shoby Scoles has loomed and been left to 
the right. Our fox means something better than a 
point so near. Onward, across the wind they carry 
it. Men at work, boys at play — even this desolate 
region would seem to be alive to-day. One and all 
of them have seen the fox — and the fox cared not 
the whisk of his brush for any of them. A farmer 
that we could ill afford to spare to the Atherstone 
(Mr. J. Cart) is wetting his spurs and refreshing his 
memory in his home country Now the hunt, at its 
best and quickest, is being led by another of the 
true yeoman sort — who could ride to hounds when 
most of us had not even attained to a rocking horse. 
Turning sharp and readily as hounds themselves — 
spotting every gap, yet shrinking not a moment from 
accepting Mr. Lubbock's lead at a palisaded oxer — 
Mr. Simpkin rides as jauntily as any of the young 
and dainty school behind him. Again, ten years are 
not far to look back upon : and we can well remem- 
ber the Quorn cutting across this very ground — in a 
twenty minutes afternoon burst from Ellars Gorse to 
Lord Aylesford's — which Mr. Lubbock then reached 
facile princeps in his chase of hounds. To-day — so 
say those in a position to tell — he is riding in quite 
the same good form, with Mr, G. Lambton as his 



88 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

nearest assistant. (And in this early scurry over 
blind ditches, strong fences, and varied grass and 
plough — with such a scent that hounds bore them- 
selves well out of over-riding distance — the chronicler 
may fairly seize upon name and prowess that admit 
of no gainsaying.) 

So sixteen minutes have brought us to Old Dalby 
Wood — and on such terms with our fox that these 
rough hillsides (the wall of the Vale of Belvoir) are, 
for once, less likely to help him than his pursuers. 
The pack cuts through the wood without dwelling a 
moment ; and now we must dive into the vale to cir- 
cumvent the ironworks and thread the waggon-ways 
which have brought so unsightly a change upon the 
edge of the Vale. Were not hounds running so fast, 
and we not heartily warmed to work, we should little 
relish scrambling down, and again up, the precipitous 
hillside, clattering for half a mile along a tramway, 
and then plunging full speed down a steep stony 
road. But all the while hounds are speeding along- 
side and below us, enjoying the turf which we cannot 
reach, till under the gorse-covered slope of Wartnaby 
Stonepits we can join them — only to be called upon 
again to chest the bursting ascent. The best of 
backs and lungs can scarcely cope with it. and retain 
strength enough for the new cut fence and wide dug 
ditch on the summit. A long galloping bay succeeds 
jn propelling his lengthy forehand to terra firma ; but 



HILL AND DALE. 89 

the striding hindquarters that work so well on the 
flat are here a mere incumbrance. However, the roll 
is in the right direction — and the fence is beautifully 
less for the panting animals that follow. Now we 
hurry along the brow, and round the plantation, to 
find hounds with their heads up near the well-known 
edifice of Little Belvoir. Two foxes have just been 
seen by the ploughmen. One has turned back into 
the spinney, the other gone forward towards Holwell 
Mouth. Nine times out of ten a well-run fox is for- 
ward ; and ninety-nine times out of a hundred he is 
down the wind. Some more casuals in the lane aver 
they have headed the fox. But hounds still declare 
him forward — and Firr wants no further evidence. 
What is that dark speck skimming the stubble down 
in the vale ? What else is it likely to be but our fox ? 
Hounds run hard to the spot, to endorse the view ; 
and now again would information, of another fox, 
have gladly robbed the huntsman of his quarry. 
Hounds are determined to press on ; informant is 
equally determined that the fox has turned up the 
hill for Holwell Mouth. Both are doubtless right — 
but we had ever better trust nose than eyes if we 
would stick to a run fox. Now we seem to be bear- 
ing upward to Clawson Thorns ; but it is a good 
omen that we turn suddenly down the vale again as 
we meet a waggon at the Clawson road. Reynard 
cannot be far ahead, or why should the waggon have 



90 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

mattered to him ? Hounds are driving with their 
hackles up ; but a fresh ploughed fallow by Long 
Clawson Village gives them, for the second and last 
time, a moment of puzzle and search. A hat is up at 
the corner of the field ; hounds are lifted this once ; 
and in the next great pasture they are racing the big 
brown fox up the hedgeside — rumble-and-worry 
forming a thrilling bass to the shrill sharp treble of a 
who-hoop that might be heard at Melton. 

A Monday field with the Quorn is always of 
pleasant dimension — as it is of very pleasant material 
— enough people for sociability and enough to ride a 
run. Yet there is none of the crowd belonging to a 
Friday south of the Wreake — nor are the elements of 
the field so varied, comprehensive, and heterogeneous. 
Men seem to be better known to each other and to 
hail more from one district ; while the farmers, in 
greater force, always take advantage of a Monday 
when they can. The following names represent a 
strong proportion of last Monday's meet ; and most 
of these might equally be incorporated with the finish 
of the day : Mr. Coupland and Miss Webster, Colonel 
Forester, Captain and Miss Starkey, Mrs. Parker, 
Miss Paget, General Chippindall, Colonel Gosling, 
Captains Ashton, Barclay, Boyce, Grimston, Henry, 
King, Langlands, Messrs. Cochrane (2), J. Cradock, 
Hume, Gerald Paget, W Paget, Deschamps, O. 
Paget, Martin (3), H, T, Barclay, G. Pochin B, 



HILL AND DALE. 9 1 

Lubbock, Parker, Beaumont, W Chaplin, E. Chaplin, 
Knowles, G. Lambton, Wade, Simpkin (2), Cart, 
Knight, Hames, Marshall, Henton. 

The morning episode from Ellar's Gorse the same 
day only just missed brilliancy through our fox gain- 
ing a start of some minutes as he stole away over the 
brook below the covert. Even then — gauged as a 
hunting run — there was little to cavil at in the hour's 
work that led us, with multiplied opportunity for 
jump and gallop, to the honey-combed banks of 
Shoby Scoles — where this two-season hunter is in the 
habit of making good his escape, whether he has to 
wend his way by a Willoughby-and-Dalby Circle or 
by means of Six Hills-and-Thrussington Wolds. To- 
day he laughed at us through the former medium. 

Friday, the last day of November, wound up an 
extremely good month for the Quorn in very con- 
sistent fashion. I fancy that everyone who went to 
Great Dalby must have had his fill of sport and riding 
before the close of the day. Or, if he failed to do so, 
it was due to some untoward accident or shortcoming 
of his own — surely to no fault in the fare offered him. 
For hounds were running hard most of the day — 
choosing such lines and circles of country as admitted 
of everyone obtaining his share in the fun. Had the 
two runs been much straighter and faster, it is certain 
that some two hundred people could not have gone 
home content, The first ring — from Gartree Hill— 



92 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

took close upon an hour to complete — the earlier 
half being voted excellent, for it embraced the strong 
pastures of Great Dalby, and included the best part 
of the Burrough steeplechase course, at a capital pace. 
It is a matter of conjecture where we may have 
changed foxes ; but there is room for belief that, for a 
second time this autumn, hounds never recovered the 
true line after touching the garden of Burrough Hill 
House. In the afternoon a fox from Thorpe Trussels, 
headed in the village, all but died a craven death in 
the poultry-pen of Thorpe Satchville Hall. But, 
escaping from this, he repeated to a letter the evening 
burst of last Kirby Gate day, then, reaching Burrough 
Hill, bore to the left by Great Dalby, and was prettily 
run and hunted almost to his death, at his own door. 
" Gentlemen! gentlemen! Cant you stand still while 
hounds hunt up to you ? " 

Not altogether devoid of comedy, by the way, was 
a little scene encountered just previously. The two 
hundred were hurrying, breathless and excited — some 
to keep with hounds, others to catch them, and others 
still to catch others — and, so doing, they closely 
enveloped and overspread a fallow field, in the imme- 
diate vicinity of the Hon. Mr. Sandford's hunting-box. 
To-morrow was to be Piper Hole with the Belvoir ; 
and if there is one man among us who studies and 
insists upon condition, it is Mr. S., for whom, more- 
over—in virtue of various pleasant memories — an 



HILL AND DALE. 



93 



evening run with the Belvoir ever possesses an 
especial charm. So Alderman, by Forager, dam 
by Repletion, being a bit heavier than he ought, 
must without fail do a light gallop in heavy 
clothing — "mind, a steady pace only; but not to be 







^rNjv, 



•' iu,,, l:'" ,i '',.:.-«h 1 ';;,;i[! i) , i v«.«- , .* % 



BOY NEVER TURNED HIS HEAD, ALTERED HIS PACE, NOR MOVED 
A MUSCLE." 



pulled up till he has finished his two miles." The 
task happened to be only just begun when the pack 
broke noisily into the field. Boy turned one eye and 
one ear in the direction of the sound, and merely 
took tighter hold of the head of Alderman, who him- 
self paid very little more attention to the interruption. 
Completing his circle, Boy found that he was now 



94 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

doing his gallop in company with a dozen men in 
scarlet. This mattered to him not a jot. He neither 
mended nor slackened his speed, but went with them 
to the end of the field ; then, wheeling as he found an 
opening, performed another circle, and accompanied a 
second detachment up the fallow. By this time the 
field was full ; but Boy never turned his head, altered 
his pace, nor moved a muscle. He merely counted 
his circles and steered his way cleverly through the 
throng of horsemen — from among whom one would 
now and then turn off after him for a few strides, like 
a puppy leaving the pack after a hare— only to rejoin 
his comrades under the impression that he had seen 
something uncanny, and that so many late nights in 
succession would really never do. Every rider of the 
whole company passed ; but Boy still went doggedly 
on, driving his sheeted and hooded conveyance round 
to complete his allotted cycle, and treating the stray 
crowd with as much unconcern as if only a flock of 
starlings were fussing past. Not out of mere curiosity, 
but in some slender hope of being enabled to inculcate 
even a little of this rigid respect for duty and orders 
into the members of my own ill-regulated establish* 
ment, I would gladly learn what influence was at 
work to render that Boy so entirely callous to all 
outer surroundings. Are the stirrup-leathers at Merton 
Lodge, think you, kept supple by the same use as that 
to which Mr. Isaac was accustomed to put them in 



HILL AND DALE. 



95 




' A HORRID KALI. IT LOOKED. 



Market Harboro' ? Does a bit of rope's end still 
survive to keep up old associations with blue water ? 



§6 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

Or again, did the Boy's master happen to be the first 
man to jump into that fallow-field — transfixing him 
at once with a quarter-deck eye that there was no 
mistaking? May we look to any of these, or was 
some deeper- seated agency at work to produce an 
adherence to duty that we had hitherto believed to 
exist only under the direct superintendence of the 
drill sergeant or the boatswain's mate ? I seem to see 
that rigid imperturbable horseman still ; but for the 
life of me I cannot (with a certain experience of the 
genus) bring myself to imbue him with a rigidity of 
rectitude that should thus out of sheer conscientious- 
ness enable him to pursue his way so totally unmoved 
— surely the most marvellous living instance of jus turn 
et tenacem propositi virion. 



CHAPTER IX. 



A TWO DAYS BREAK. 




HE frost of the week ending December 8th 
rudely interrupted a routine just established — a day- 
to-day life thoroughly entered upon — a habit of being 
and doing to which body and mind had become fairly 
set. The disruption, for which we might well have been 
prepared and were not, put the machinery of exist- 
ence all out of joint — giving us a shock as if we had 

H 



98 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

never thought or heard of frost, and as if the four 
months' future had been bought on the conditions of 
open weather and uninterrupted sport. The stoppage 
came too soon ; we had not bargained for it, we 
wanted none of it — nor did our horses. Thus we 
grumbled at home, or took our growlings abroad ; at 
once made up our little minds for the worst; accepted 
a hard winter as a foregone conclusion — and there 
was a long list of absentees, shooting, playgoing, and 
in various fashion picking oakum for Satan, when, 
after three days, the wind chopped round to the south, 
proclaiming a hunting morning to inaugurate the 
new week. 

The Quorn accordingly reopened the ball with 
another long run on Monday, December 10 — covering 
a great deal of ground in two hours. The pace never 
approached that of some of their recent more brilliant 
performances ; but they ran over a very goodly 
country, and showed much beautiful hunting to a 
field of such a size as could best enjoy it. We cannot 
expect to be galloping full speed every day — nor, if 
such were possible, would it suit either the luck or 
capacity of each and all of us. Every dog has his 
day — and some dogs are satisfied with less of a day 
than others. We are jolly dogs if we have turned the 
spit of fortune so as to catch the full blaze of success 
in a hard-ridden chase. We are doleful dogs if we 
have been left in the shade ; our tails go down ; we 



A TWO DAYS* BREAK. 99 

whine and lament ; we even insult the understanding 
of our fellow-men (excellent judges and unsparing, 
even if silent critics) by explaining with much em- 
phasis the unheard-of combination of circumstances 
that led to our missing the run — and perhaps we miss 
another the very next day. But the catastrophe 
should not befall us in what we term a " hunting 
run." We surety ought to be there then — if only to 
assert our right, as subscribers, land occupiers, or 
poachers, to ride among the hounds and round the 
huntsman. So we all of us make the most of a 
hunting run ; see more of the work than we can 
possibly expect to in three " gallops " out of four, or 
in ninety-nine out of a hundred (according to our 
calibre, mental, bodily, and generally effective) ; have 
a great deal more to say about it afterwards (not the 
worst part of foxhunting) ; and probably go to bed 
without any of the soreness that may be our share 
after the fastest " run of the season." 

Monday's was an excellent example of such oppor- 
tunity. How much we may have seized it — why we 
did or why we didn't — -is best known to ourselves, 
and to the man who, never very forward himself, 
invariably has an inquiry of mock solicitude for you 
and me as we jog up with apparent unconcern after 
the fox has been broken up. On Monday hounds 
brought us a long way, for the most part over a very 
eligible country ; the fox made an honest point of 

h 3 



100 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD 

eight miles and a half; and whatever else might 
happen on the way, it could scarcely have been the 
pace that choked the straggler off. 

My brief and very unvarnished narrative has to 
start from Willoughby Gorse — where we found, no 
doubt, the Ellar's Gorse fox of repeated renown. 
The first seven or eight minutes' rush led us through 
a cruel country — very nice grass, it is true, but that 
grass parcelled out in little plots and paddocks so 
stiffly fenced that no two comfortable gaps lay oppo- 
site each other; and the boldest and most venture- 
some of our stock pilots were to be seen dodging and 
twisting like hares turned by greyhounds. Ellar's 
Gorse is but a mile from that of Willoughby ; and 
when once we had passed the former, had left the 
brook satisfactorily to our right, and reached the road 
on the opposite hill, we deemed the gallop assured, 
and a pleasant easy country ahead. But carriages 
and foot-people broke the first dash ; scent lay 
dubiously on the yet cold ground ; and slow hunting 
began. I am far from saying that true, patient, and — 
as in this case — quick hunting has not charms, or even 
charms in their own way quite equivalent to the more 
effervescent delights of a sharp scurry. On the other 
hand, I would never dare argue that Leicestershire, 
and a Leicestershire field, form at all times the best 
scene and surroundings for the quieter phases of line- 
hunting. Indeed, when men's blood has once been 



A TWO DAYS' BREAK. 10 1 

roused by the hurry-scurry of a flying start, I should 
say they form for a while the very worst. But a very 
few minutes will serve to cool needless ardour, and 
bring the hottest of enthusiasts to his bearings. To 
ride to hounds here (quite as much as anywhere else) 
men must have learned to keep an eye on their move- 
ments ; and to see when it is no longer necessary to 
rush and rake. Once let hounds settle and men be 
quiet, it is certainly more enjoyable, and probably no 
less edifying, to see a fox steadily hunted over a good 
country than a bad one. 

The fox in question succeeded in crossing the road 
at last, leaving the pack to puzzle out his line down a 
side lane, before — field for field, and fence for fence as 
on two previous occasions — he carried them on above 
Old Dalby to Lord Aylesford's Covert. A plough 
team turning him in the last field, he skirted Old 
Dalby Wood, and rested awhile in Grimston Gorse — 
moving on again in view as hounds came up. From 
Saxelby Spinney, just beyond, ensued another sharp 
ten minutes over the best of the Quorn Monday 
grass. They ran slower again while the field worked 
its way out of the entanglements of the three bottoms 
that cut up the ground below Wartnaby ; but set to 
work quicker again round the tightly-fenced neigh- 
bourhood of Kettleby Village. From the Belvoir 
covert of Old Hills their fox gave some of the field 
another view ; but a slight check ensued at Scalford 



102 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

Spinney, half a mile further. Just short of the rail- 
way beneath Melton Spinney hounds bore to the left 
for Scalford Village ; and — having now scored a 
point of eight miles and a half from the find — settled 
down as if running for blood. A mile of deep plough 
came as a distressing variety to horses that had been 
steadily pegging on for an hour and a half. But 
above Clawson Thorns, Reynard was signalled as 
close in front ; and at the neutral covert of Holwell 
Mouth he found the main earth an open refuge. 
Verdict — a real good fox, and a right sporting run. 
Recommended by the jury — that, as the earth stopper 
has now so fully established the neutrality of the 
covert by allowing a fox to get to ground in the earth 
in front of both the Belvoir and the Ouorn hounds 
within the last month, he be now instructed to smoke 
out and close the said earth permanently until it is 
again needed in the spring. 




CHAPTER X. 

BARKBY TO TILTON AGAIN. 

, URELY no one who started in that black storm 
from Thorpe Trussels with the Quorn on 
Friday (Dec. 14), could have dared suppose 
that a day of sport was before him — however deep 
his faith in the pack, and however assured by recent 
events of the bright ascendancy of its star. Rain and 
tempest nearly swept one from the saddle, blinded 
men and horses, confused the pack, and washed away 
all trace of Reynard directly the railway was crossed. (I 
fear me, by the way, that the good man who so deftly 
unlocked the gates had his outstretched hat more 
readily filled with rainwater than silver in the dark 
confusion — for the most grateful and ready of pockets 
could scarcely have dared open to the drenching 
downpour. It was a relief, however, to see that the 
acute janitor was sensible enough to reappear with 
the sun, to claim from several the gratitude, and the 
pourboire, which should ensure us favours to come, 
The little luxury of " a glass to Foxhunting " at the 
village public is — believe me — a wondrously valuable 
agent in these precarious times, Its recognition is 



104 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

not a costly affair ; the opportunity is frequent 
enough ; and hunting men who would combat the 
hostile influences, day by day more manifest against 
their liberty of action and recreation, may well afford 
thus to nurture the name of Foxhunting among a 
class that were born to honour and esteem it, but are 
now too freely schooled to revere nothing.) 

This parenthesis gives us time to find the passing 
storm overpast, a fresh fox found in Ashby Pastures, 
three couple of hounds on with him to Thorpe 
Trussels, and the huntsman galloping the others up 
to join them. By and bye we were away up the yet 
wild wind, with the green slopes of Twyford and 
Ashby Folville in front. In the teeth of the breeze 
there was a brilliant scent — a scent that proved itself 
marvellous in every field. For, eccentric as are the 
ways of the wily one, I at least have never known him 
tack and beat up the wind so sharply as now. In 
fact, he cut and drove against it like a snipe— the 
pack spreading a hundred yards broad, and dash- 
ing into each twist with a swing that kept every 
hound at top speed. There was nothing in his path 
to turn him ; nor was there any apparent reason 
for his passing over a fluted drain that had seemed 
his obvious point. Possibly, finding himself pushed 
up the strong breeze, with a wide-spread field behind 
him, he had no alternative but to persevere. In this 
case the result was a very bright twenty minutes' 



BARKBY TO TILTON AGAIN. 105 

scurry, with a scent that, on a day so wild and rough, 
we should scarcely have found down the wind. He 
skirted the village of Ashby Folville, then at last 
kept his head straight, and took us gaily to Mr. 
Cheney's Long Spinney at Gaddesby — across a 
pleasant and roomy line of grass below the village of 
Barsby. The fences were strong and the falls were 
many — but the soft ground makes falling, if not 
actually acceptable, at least ten per cent, less dis- 
agreeable than under harder conditions (the un- 
fortunate accident to Mr. S. Paget in a gateway being 
a sad exception, on which, as is our custom and 
principle, we forbear to dwell). 

A touching action, not without its moral of good- 
will and friendship, came to light while some fifty 
people were clearing the last fence approaching the 
spinney. Among the earliest to fly the stake-and- 
bound was one of Melton's smartest sons — his flushed 
and heated brow now bared to the cooling breeze, and 
his fair locks as nearly flowing as the weekly visit to 
the London barber would warrant (for we are very 
punctilious on this head — at all events till we reach 
the sober age of thirty, or till we find ourselves added 
to the list of Benedicts). Immediately following him 
rode a gallant gentleman who came last winter, not 
only to learn how English foxhunting was carried on, 
but even to bear away to France " the laurels and the 
siller " of the Leicestershire Hunt Steeplechase. 



106 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

Adapting himself with extraordinary readiness to the 
ways and fashions of the sport, and rapidly acquiring 
the knack of riding to hounds — he yet found one 
little detail to puzzle and trouble him far more than 
merely learning how to fall, much more than 
accustoming himself to stout timber or scratchy bull- 
finches. This to him lay in the incompatibility of 
the hat of society to the rude exercise of the chase. 
A tall beaver would surely be as much out ot 
place in the glades of the Forest of Versailles, as a 
long winding horn round Tom Firr's body would be 
here. The exceptional good breeding of his race 
renders every one of his countrymen nimble and 
graceful beyond all others in the art of doffing the 
hat. But the point now so difficult of acquirement 
was to keep it on. Well-fitting hats — hats too big — 
hats too little — all seemed possessed with the same 
cruel objection to remaining in their proper position. 
When he jumped, they flew. When he fell, they 
broke away He took his falls with the nonchalance 
pertaining to a courage that would not be daunted 
and a resolution that never failed. If the hat and he 
chanced to fall on the same side of the fence, they 
rejoined forces, and went on in the fray together. 
But he was far too good and determined a sportsman 
to throw away a run for the sake of saving a hat. 
Vestigia nulla retrorsum was his motto — which, for 
information of a certain Hunt servant who was for the 



BARKBY TO TILTON AGAIN. 



107 



moment so sorely hurt by my thoughtless and 
opprobrious epithet of locum tenens* may be trans- 
lated as signifying "Look back for another hat" — 
and so he sailed onwards in the first flight of many a 
good gallop, hatless, brave, and unabashed. In fact, 




PRODUCED IT WITH A SWEEP TO HIS VERY STIRRUP. 



the possession or not of his hat by M. Elys^es began 
to be regarded as more or less the criterion of the 
merits, and especially of the pace, of a run. It was 
even suggested that a scale should be established, and 

* Within a week of the chance employment, and the subsequent 
funny misconstruction of the term, Mr. Punch was supplied from the 
Vale of Belvoir with material for a cut conveying the mistake in 
another form. 



108 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

the standard of the gallop denoted by the temporary 
head-covering worn by him on the way home — for 
instance, a yellow bandana to betoken a rattling 
half-hour, a white kerchief a sharp twenty minutes. 
But look at him now, in the second month of his 
second season, as he lands over the fence by Gaddesby 
Spinney — after a scurry that has levelled and dis- 
hevelled many a pretty horseman ! Is he bare- 
headed ? Is he still a victim to an infirmity that 
brought him a bushel of chaff, and cost a hatful of 
money ? No, doubly No. His own faultless head- 
piece, with its smooth silk almost unruffled, sits 
lightly and firmly in its place — while in his teeth is 
tightly grasped the hat of his brother Meltonian, who 
having left it in the first thick bullfinch from Thorpe 
Trussels, had thought never to see it again. The 
friend-in-need, with both hands free to steer his way 
in the race, had never relinquished the legacy that he 
found in his path — and now produced it with a sweep 
to his very stirrup. Does not a fellow-feeling make 
us wondrous kind ? 

But the run of the day, of course, was in the 
afternoon — from Barkby Holt, and with the same 
good fox as on our famous Friday fresh in memory. 
As my prophetic soul bade me foretell, he gave us 
another gallop on the same lines — and he did his 
part bravely. Again we ran to Tilton ; again we rode 
the Lowesby pastures ; and again he beat us at the 



BARKBY TO TILTON AGAIN. 109 

finish. On this occasion we galloped most of the five 
miles — last time we raced the whole of them. On 
this Friday we crowded through bridle gate after 
bridle gate — but avoided the disastrous bottom to 
which so much misfortune was attributed a fortnight 
ago. So much for comparison. Now for a few small 
details, and I have done — for there was nothing in the 
run to justify a narrative of men and deeds. To 
begin with, no one who viewed the fox on Friday 
last, and had viewed him also that other day, could 
have believed his identity — till, as the run pro- 
ceeded, we saw him work time after time back to 
his exact former line, and at last succeed in running 
it gap for gap to Tilton Village. For the dark 
healthy fox was now changed (no doubt from the 
exhaustion of his previous effort) to a mangy and 
sorry beast of strangely different aspect. But he was 
strong enough still to stand before hounds for a hard 
forty minutes — and may yet carry us over that 
pleasant ground again. To-day he was found in the 
Holt ; and, with people riding all round the Gorse 
had to escape at the lower end before turning for 
Baggrave. This necessity put the South Croxton 
brook (a pretty little bank-to-bank jump) in the path 
of all who rode to hounds — while just previously it 
had also included one of the surest traps in the Hunt 
circuit. It ought to have been well known to all who 
have ridden from Barkby Holt to Queniboro' Spinney. 



ItO THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

Perhaps it was to many, in the cunning of our hard- 
earned geography. But for all that, its second ditch 
(a full horse's-length away) reaped a full harvest once 
more. We rode through South Croxton Village, 
along the bridle-road to Baggrave covert and Hall, 
along the bridle-road to Lowesby — along the bridle- 
road yet further, and only the two miles past Lowesby 
Station to Large's Spinneys by means of legitimate 
cross-country work. At half-a-dozen different points 
there were footpeople to keep Reynard to his bridle- 
path course, and forbid him the range of wild grass 
that he had traversed so boldly and rapidly before. 
But, with a scent not brilliant yet more than fairly 
good, it was an excellent hound-run : and only the 
odium of needless comparison could detract from its 
sterling merit. On the Tilton Hill, hard by the 
village, our fox lay down for two or three minutes ; 
but, before the hounds (at fault on a fallow) could be 
brought to him, he was again on his legs, and finally 
baffled them in the middle of the village — forty 
minutes from the find. 




CHAPTER XL 

SPORT IN SEASON. 

ii> OULD foxhunters have bidden a merrier 
Christmas than that of 1883, with its quiet 
mild weather, its daily companionship, its 
wholesome and corrective exercise, and its very 
antagonism to the seasonable misery of icy idleness ? 
Day by day we have made merry and felt happy in a 
fashion more healthy than anything offered by the 
wassail bowl or the irrational and indigestible 
pudding. A scarlet coat is better than red berries ; 
and the mistletoe went out of date with hunting the 
slipper. Hunting the fox is the truest Christmas 
pastime — and in this we could indulge to the very eve 
of the feast-day, under the happy conditions of calm 
warm air, dry skins, and almost dry ground. 

It would be impossible to conceive three pleasanter 
hunting days than the Thursday, Friday, and 
Saturday preceding Christmas — with Sir Bache 
Cunard, the Quorn, and the Cottesmore respectively. 
No great event came of any of them. But merely to 
be riding about was a luxury ; and to know that the 
season was un~Christmas-like was in itself a boon. 



112 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

Thursday, Dec. 20th, at Illston Grange, was a quiet 
muggy morning — which might mean a scent, but 
might not and did not. The beautiful Norton and 
Billesdon country never shone out more enticingly 
than now. The big assemblage included men from 
Market Harboro', Melton, and all the district 
between ; but Fate did nothing for them. A 
cowardly fox got back to Norton Gorse and to 
ground as quick as he could — while three grim fences 
brought some thirteen good men also to ground. 
Shankton Holt had by accident stood over for six 
weeks — and four brace of foxes were ready to run. 
But scent was nil, either here or from Sheepshorns. 
Yet, to instance the perversity of scent and fortune — 
the Meynell showed the run of the season to two or 
three Meltonians who took train that day to join 
them. 

Friday, Dec. 21st, was only relieved from poverty 
by a sharp brief scurry in the evening — scarcely 
enough to reward, certainly not enough to satisfy the 
appetites of, the many who had come from a distance. 
It would seem, by the way — not to judge from this 
particular day, but from every day of this delightful 
open winter when hounds have met in any fair 
sample of the country round — that not only do more 
men hunt, but that they travel farther and more 
readily to do it, than ever before. The explanation 
of the fact — if I am right in assuming it to be a fact 



SPORT IN SEASON. 



113 



— lies no doubt in the multiplicity of railways, and 
the new facilities so readily advanced by competing 
companies. During this Christmas holiday time, 
indeed, our fields are made up quite as largely of 




ORDER ME A TRAIN ! I'LL HUNT WITH 
SIR BACHE." 



strangers from afar as of members of the home or 
neighbouring Hunts — and this, too, quite apart from 
the welcome swarm of beaming schoolboys. But, 
merely to join the pack nearest their own, and to 

1 



114 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

avoid the long roadwork, the regular hunting men of 
the district appear to make far freer use of the trains, 
even of the old-established railways, than they were 
accustomed to before they had the example thus 
lavishly set — albeit an instance to the contrary 
suddenly jumps into memory, carrying me back fully 
half a dozen years to one Thursday morn. The 
clock had barely finished striking nine at a certain 
Lodge in Melton Mowbray (smoking hours having 
been prolonged overnight and Thursday voted an off 
day), when the voice of mine host sounded loudly 
over the banisters, " Hey, Johnson ! Bring me my 
shaving-water at once and order me a train ! I'll 
hunt with Sir Bache." 

But about Friday afternoon last. The Ouorn had 
for once been out of luck. They had brought off 
only a slow hunt from Scraptoft ; and had then, alas, 
chopped the good Barkby fox in covert. In fact, the 
only amusement of the day had, at some considerable 
trouble and no little risk to themselves, been 
generously furnished to a circle of appreciative 
friends by two of the best proved riders of our 
younger school. Tired of inaction, they felt bound 
to do something to break the monotony. How 
better than by breaking a top-binder ? But anybody 
can jump a hedge. Anybody, however, cannot light 
harmlessly on his feet at the foot of the thorns, stop- 
ping a rushing horse in a single stride ! Bravissimo ! 



SrORT IN SEASON. 115 

Oh, but we can beat that easily. Houp-la ! Over 
we go — the mare turns a summersault, so do we — 
our patent stirrups describing a parabola and drop- 
ping side by side twenty yards off. A light, you 
wish, sir ? Certainly, our horse is down, our stirrups 
they have flown — and our cigarette has never left our 
lips ! 

The sole remaining chance of the day lay in the 
little Gaddesby Spinney, whence the first bright 
gallop of the season had dated. Out with the watch 
again ! Three o'clock this time ! and the self-same 
fox I believe and hope. Again he heads for 
Gaddesby ; and again we troop into the road — no, 
not all ; for the huntsman, Messrs. Beaumont, 
Baldock, Lambton, Gilson, and one or two others 
ride the line of hounds fairly, and jump the wide 
cross fence directly after them. See, the pack swings 
towards us now, the leading hounds are not forty 
yards from the road — and we have done a right 
clever thing, thus to cling to the lane ! Have we, 
though ? 'Twas somewhere here he bent away 
before— and now see them turn suddenly northward 
again ! Slip out through this first open gate ; dis- 
engage at all hazards — or safely and certainly you 
will be carried on in the rush like a straw down a 
millrace. The foremost hounds are already wheeling 
off. The fox has been headed from the lane. Cut 
across the angle with Mr. and Miss Chaplin, Mr. 

1 2 



Il6 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

Miles, and the few others who had extricated them- 
selves, and you may ride in their wake over the very 
gaps that helped you in that November gallop — while, 
thundering down the lane, and finding never another 
exit, scores of good men are now galloping right 
away from hounds, in helpless bitterness of soul. To 
write the history of the next ten minutes would be 
but to repeat a tale already told. Fence and gate, 
field and gap, yard for yard, did hounds and horses 
swiftly follow their footsteps of a former occasion — 
leaving Gaddesby village behind them, and scouring 
the Brooksby farm from end to end. But here the 
repetition ends ; a check and a change of foxes came 
after a quarter of an hour, and the best of the chase 
was over. 

Saturday, December 22nd (the least difficult form 
is that of the skeleton diary) — the Cottesmore at 
Wild's Lodge, only three miles from Melton break- 
fast tables (involving therefore only two more cigars 
overnight). At the Meet. Effect of unusually open 
season even on Melton studs. Rigorous and 
opulent sportsman is not wearing pink. " How's this, 
my dear fellow ? Aunt gone at last ? " " No (with 
a sad sigh). No. Fact is, I rode this horse first on 
Thursday ; had but one other for to-day ; my fellow 
said ' he might do a bit this morning if I only wore a 
black coat' So I've been obliged to humour him." 
Take this to heart, ye who set no store on the noble 



SPORT IN SEASON. WJ 

" red rag " of foxhunting, and who wonder why the 
second horsemen don't touch their hats unless you 
happen to be riding in company with the purple ! 
(Farmers, parsons, hunting correspondents, and men- 
who- have - had - a- cropper-and-can't-go-in-their-usual- 
form, of course being at liberty to adapt their 
costume to their circumstances and condition.) This 
little moral tale reproduced by special permission — 
all rights reserved. 

11.45. Under the old tree on the Burton Flat — 
near the river side opposite Wyfordby — Reynard 
looking down from the main fork, some twenty feet 
up — Master cracking his whip below — huntsman and 
hounds openmouthed and hungry a short fifty yards 
away. Reynard don't seem to see it. " Take those 
dogs away — or I won't play." " Shy a stick at him 
— and don't get in the way of the hounds, sir ! " 

11.50. Cannonade fairly opened. First discharge 
produces obvious effect : and enemy cowers behind 
such shelter as he can find. Second discharge, still 
better directed, brings about a decided panic and an 
immediate change of position. No casualties at 
present on our side. Third discharge completely 
routs the enemy. Now for pursuit, brave boys ! 

Reynard's five yards start, however, proved quite 
enough for him. From that moment until after 3.30, 
hounds were busy trying to catch him, or his sub- 
stitutes' — but went home with no nearer acquaintance 



Il8 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

with that bright red fur than when it shone before 
their wistful eyes from its lofty perch, or dangled a 
moment ere it descended almost on their noses. 

They hustled him up and down the precincts of 
river and railway, past Burbage's Covert and back 
into Stapleford Park — in one of the wet furrows of 
which he lay gasping, till half a dozen throats grew 
hoarse in holloaing over him, and while the pack 
vainly sought a clue below the House. Cooled and 
refreshed, he then preceded hounds into Laxton's 
Covert, and then perhaps climbed another tree — for it 
was a dark black fox that now played a long game 
of hide-and-seek amid the privet. " A bad fox " of 
course we dubbed him — one and all of us, from the 
line-hunting veteran of sixty to the coming Nimrods 
twixt six and sixteen, who are blossoming now like 
Christmas roses, and who wanted to be off and away. 
We all thought we knew something of foxes ; and we 
all said something of this one — because our tongues 
must wag, and because we failed to see that a fox 
would not be forced in a direction contrary to his 
bent. For, after all, he stuck to his point and made 
his way — across the broad park, round its farther 
limits, over the railway by the level crossing, and on 
beyond Wymondham Roughs. We galloped the flat 
heartily ; and then had a sharp hard quarter of an 
hour — till again involved in the railway. So to 
Ashwell, by bridge and crossing and arch and pad- 



SPORT IN SEASON. 1 19 

locked gate — threading the line, whereon extermina- 
tion threatened hounds every quarter of a mile. But 
these are days in which even engine drivers read of 
how wars are made and foxes are hunted. Train 
after train slackened or pulled up to give the pack 
time ; and ours I fancy was the more dangerous pro- 
gress. It certainly was when we reached the 
Ashwell Vale, by which time all courage had fairly 
cooled and men merely sauntered after hounds — let- 
ting the unravelment of sandwich-papers and the dis- 
entanglement of their fox's course divide their atten- 
tion in proportions somewhat in favour of the former 
study. High flights, whether of intellect, enthusiasm, 
or high timber, are scarcely the natural outcome of 
minds relaxed. Yet now of a sudden they found 
themselves in a position that would have been 
scarcely welcome with temperament at boiling point. 
A new ironstone waggon-way, bounded on either side 
by lofty post-and -rails, had been built across the 
valley ; and the Ashwell brook — diverted into a 
newly-dug channel — came at right angles to form a 
corner. A workman beckoned across the railway to 
point their fate ; the hounds were already over — and 
the freshly sawn timber rose menacingly white and 
stiff. A dozen ready pair of arms were quickly at 
work to force an opening ; but the oak-posts declined 
to move, or the ash-rails to do more than bend and 
spring back. At this moment Capt. Blair was to be 



120 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

seen riding along the low embankment. How did 
he get there ? Must be a nice hole farther back, of 
course ! So the party remounted and turned along 
the line with gladdened hearts — to find their com- 
rade's footprints marking the greensward whence he 
had made his jump. They couldn't stay there all 
day — so the fun began. Two horses refused ; and a 
dozen at once followed suit. The second whip and 
his steed then rolled in without actually parting : the 
Master, after putting up with one refusal, took his 
hunter by the head, and fairly squeezed him over — in 
a fashion that few of our generation have strength, 
hands, and horsemanship to imitate (but that it 
would have warmed Col. Thomson's heart to witness). 
The huntsman's journey in was the crowning result of 
many efforts ; but, instead of encouraging those who 
in breathless anxiety watched his clamber back from 
forehead-band to saddle, it went far to confirm their 
first impressions of the undesirability of the attempt ; 
and Mr. Cecil Chaplin was his only follower. Two 
or three others plunged somehow along the bed of 
the brook, to gain the railway bank and the gate on 
the opposite side. The rest found there was " no 
hurry after all " — and, bringing united weight and 
discretion to bear, caught hounds an easy quarter of 
an hour afterwards. Then we could see them hunt 
on under Market Overton to Barrow Gorse, run back 
fairly fast to Woodwell Head, and confess themselves 



SPORT IN SEASON. 121 

beaten about midway between that wood and Coston 
Covert — after nearly four hours' patient and often 
pretty hunting. 

The Quorn had quite a wonderful run the same 
day ; and though they met in a somewhat unfashion- 
able corner of their country, they found a fox to take 
them almost into the heart of it, and to pick out for 
them all the choicest ground by the way. Meeting 
at Cortlingstock, they drew Bunney Park, and thence 
ran a distance of between twenty-two and twenty-four 
miles, making a twelve-mile point, and crossing not a 
dozen ploughed fields in the whole run ! I trust The 
Field may be furnished with a detailed account of 
this great hunt from the pen of someone who was 
with them. Meanwhile the following outline will 
convey a fair notion to those who know the country. 

The hounds pressed their fox up and down Bunney 
Wood before he faced the open ; then they ran him 
fast by Wysall and over a wild grass district between 
Hoton and Wimeswold. Leaving Prestwold to the 
right, they hunted on nearly to Mr. Cradock's 
Spinney by Six Hills ; then, crossing Mr. Coupland's 
farm, freshened the pace again till they overlooked 
Old Dalby. Bearing now to the left, they kept above 
Upper Broughton, passed to the right of The Curate 
and close by The Parson's Gorse, past the left of 
Hickling and by Key Wood (where the Belvoir had 
been about three quarters of an hour before). As their 



122 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

fox failed, so did daylight ; and, though he was 
constantly viewed as he crawled before them up to 
the village of Colston Basset, darkness came on when 
another ten minutes must have sufficed to kill him. 

In a week that was fruitful of no great events (bar 
the feat of the Quorn on Saturday, when all of the 
Melton side were hunting elsewhere), perhaps the 
most to enjoy was found in the Christmas Eve gallop 
from Thrussington Gorse — when the Quorn raced a 
fox into view in twelve minutes and hunted him to 
ground in about forty-five. Twice in the day it 
happened that a fox, just entering upon the beautiful 
Hoby Vale, preferred to turn in to a drain rather 
than trust his strength over those wide fair fields. 
But this by the way — and, I should have added, from 
Cossington Gorse and Thrussington Wolds in turn. 
The run was from Thrussington Gorse — hounds 
quietly slipping away on a fox that left unseen. He 
crossed the Fosse Road between the covert and Six 
Hills — and they were across it too, long before any 
Christmas crowd could cut them off. A dozen men 
turned out of the road (always the most difficult, yet 
often the most desperately necessary point in riding 
to hounds) ; but they had scurried almost out of sight 
before anyone had reached the second road, by Mr. 
Cradock's Spinney. Round this they swept like a 
whirlwind, pointing as it were for Ellar's Gorse — 
Downs in closest pursuit, with Messrs. G. Lambton, 



SPORT IN SEASON. 



123 



Pennington, Beaumont, and the huntsman apparently 
the only others who could live the pace. And 



ru 












i^il 







A WELCOME HALT. 



indeed it was a fair trial of speed, as for those early 
minutes they competed over firm young turf (for 
many hundreds of acres on this side of the Quorn 



124 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

country have been redeemed to grass in the last few 
years), with low level fences that could be taken any- 
where and in the gallop. A dozen minutes they flew 
towards Burton — and now their fox was plainly to 
be seen, toiling onward a small half-field in front. 
Dodging a hedgerow, he flung them off for a 
moment ; and, when some twenty minutes in all 
had passed, he had joined another of his kind — the 
two crossing a fallow together. An instantaneous 
change of scent proclaimed a change of foxes — and, 
though they ran and hunted round Walton to Prest- 
wold, the life of the chase was gone. Finally they 
had to give it up near Hoton New Spinney. 



CHAPTER XII. 

THE OLD YEAR OUT. 

\HE old year went out happily enough through 

J : ei§ the medium of the Quorn — who brought off 
^^^^ a hard and excellent run, and wound up 1883 
in befitting fashion. From Curate's Gorse they ran 
over an immense tract of good ground between the 
hours of twelve and four thirty — scouring, in fact, 
nearly the whole of their Monday country. A slice 
of the vale of Belvoir, as we all know, dovetails into 
Quorn territory between Widmerpool and Wartnaby 
■ — the prettiest grass lining the basin and continuing 
over the hills that rise on three sides. Crossing, re- 
crossing, and circling it now, hounds first spent an 
hour and a half within and about this charming 
amphitheatre — then passing over the Wartnaby 
heights, worked westward along the broad slope 
above the Valley of the Wreake, till they had nearly 
reached Ratcliffe : finally hunting till dark beyond 
Segrave and Burton. How many foxes they ran it 
would be impossible to say ; but apparently they 
were never off a line from find to finish. Had they 
killed their fox, as seemed inevitable when after the 



126 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

first hour he lay down in a fallow field, the run might 
have taken rank with almost any of the season. Its 
prolongation was strongly typical of " too much of a 
good thing." Men rode on with tired horses till they 
could do no more, and long after they could gather 
much pleasure from a country that grew better and 
stiffer at every mile. That the huntsman could work 
on undaunted under the dispiriting knowledge of re- 
peated changes of fox was a credit to his courage, as 
it was a proof of his reliance on the endurance of his 
hounds. 

Widmerpool New Inn had been the meet — the 
thought and sympathy of every Quornite being 
directed towards Widmerpool Hall, where Major 
Robertson lay a sad sufferer from the loss of an eye, 
destroyed by a thorn during a recent day's hunting. 

Nottinghamshire (as was only right ; for the ren- 
dezvous is, I see, within the bounds of the better 
cultivated county) was quite as strongly represented 
as Leicestershire ; and altogether there were quite as 
many people "on the ride" when a fox left The 
Curate, as hounds could fairly be called upon to 
compete with. The Belvoir had been within a field 
of the covert the day before (in a good five-and -forty 
minutes from Sherbooke's Gorse) ; and it was great 
luck that a bold fox, now so ready to fly, should not 
have then been frightened away. Hounds started 
not on the best of terms ; but could run well on the 



THE OLD YEAR OUT. 



127 



grass, were helped over one ploughed field, and after 
a couple of miles had settled into full swing. Widmer- 
pool had been left to the right ; Willoughby was the 
apparent point ; we could go nearly as fast as the 






!.■'■-■ 




"he's turned right back, along the top rig o' the 
greensit piece." 



pack, but hounds were not easily to be pressed. What 
could be the meaning of a horseman galloping, hat in 
hand, right into their faces and ours ? Of course that 
he had " headed the fox " — a crime as heinous (how- 
ever involuntary) as anything in our social calendar, 
comparable only to the sin of ugliness in womankind. 
The baser sinner in question belonged to a line of life 
whose first burden and duty, in return for wages 



128 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

received and instruction imparted, is to be told home 
truths with a timely plainness of language that defies 
mistake. But this good man, unwarned by past 
visitations or totally lacking the astuteness that (how- 
ever imperceptible to the eye of the looker-on) seldom 
fails to stand a second horseman, or a street arab, in 
good stead, but helps him out of many a difficulty — 
or, maybe, carried away by a worthy excitement 
— must needs gallop almost into his master's arms, 
shouting " He's turned right back, along the top 
rig o' the greensit piece" {Anglic^, the top ridge of 
the greensward — for he was evidently born of the 
shire). Darkly as the many errors of his previous 
life must have been held up before him by the same 
tongue ; black and base and unprecedented as his 
conduct had been pictured many times and oft (till 
he had come to regard a mere modicum of reproach 
as positive approval), I doubt if he ever truly realised 
his unworthiness till now — when he almost cannoned 
against his outraged employer. But let us draw a 
veil. His feelings have doubtless been blunted long 
ago. Ours should be somewhat callous (probably 
are) after that still harder taskmaster, the world, has 
ridden roughshod over us for an uncertain number of 
years. But even we are still excitable ; sometimes 
almost enthusiastic — never more so than when we 
have safely issued through the turmoil and anxiety of 
the earlier stages of a burst to hounds, and for once 



THE OLD YEAR OUT. I2Q 

have succeeded in joining that chosen band of a score 
— or twain at the most — who are really " seeing the 
run." At such times, in mind and thought — or even, 
it may be, in words of haste — we are apt to be just 
only to ourselves. 

The first sharp edge of the gallop was now gone. 
What took its place was bright enough ; but a quick 
game of follow-my-leader (where the country admits 
of more than one or two leaders to show us where we 
may ride in safety) is better than the scramble of a 
big field all going the same pace, and when any little 
regard for hounds on the part of an individual leads 
only to his being at once thrust to the rear. Matters, 
and pace, mended sensibly after the Fosse Road was 
recrossed and as the chase swept down upon the rail- 
way by Old Dalby. Hounds then ran lustily across 
the Vale to the Wartnaby Hills. Along the brow 
they pushed cheerily — some riders sticking to the 
vale, a greater number clinging to the upper ground. 
From beneath, the pack were plainly to be seen 
working their way fast along the skyline, while distant 
halloas proclaimed that Reynard had kept to the 
ridge, even to Holwell Mouth. Indeed, as hounds 
and their followers reached that covert, a fox was to 
be viewed rising the opposite slope in the direction of 
Long Clawson ; and, starting again on better terms 
with him, the hounds drove him hard into the vale 
again, to a point midway between that village and 



130 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

Nether Broughton. Here he lay down for some 
minutes in a fallow, while the huntsman cast round 
the field. Up he then jumped in view ; and the odds 
were iooto i on a speedy kill. But he kept ahead 
of them still over the green meadows round Nether 
Broughton, and regained the hills of Wartnaby 
(i hour and 30 minutes to now). Beyond the smaller 
spinney of Saxelby, he puzzled the pack for a while ; 
and it was probably a fresh fox that took them on, 
into and through Grimston Gorse. Thence by Rag- 
dale, Hoby, Thrussington, up to the ploughs of 
Cossington and Segrave — mostly at a fair hunting 
pace, and until darkness came upon them at no great 
distance from their kennel doors. 

A monster Christmas gathering was held at 
Brooksby Hall on Friday, December 28th. The fog 
of previous days had changed to a thin mist, through 
which the sun sent his warmth, though he could not 
brighten it with his rays. The meet being an 
obscure secret, only to be circulated among sub- 
scribers, had been whispered abroad so lavishly that 
all the form of advertisement known to Mr. Willing 
could not have called together a fuller concourse. 
As the hounds trotted off to draw Bleakmoor, the 
Melton road carried a mile of humanity, on horseback 
and on wheels — trooping in close formation from the 
trysting place beside the old church and Hall. A 
primitive people, I am kd to believe, compose the 



tHE OLD YEAR Otlf. 1 3 1 

population of the region round Brooksby — once a 
thickly inhabited district, now only a manorhouse and 
a garden-church, with squire and rector duly attached. 
Each pasture surrounding it bears curious indenta- 
tions, mounds, and marks, denoting probably the site 
of former buildings. But not till a week or so ago 
has any really reliable explanation been forthcoming 
of their origin. The "oldest parishioner" of the 
adjoining village was asked for information — and 
promptly gave it as follows, " Well sir, they do tell 
me as Squire Cromwell made 'em. Kind o' fortifica- 
tions like. But I can't say as I knowed him." 

I have no long story to tell of Friday A beautiful 
hunting day brought but little fruit. The morning 
fox was found among the small plantations in the 
neighbourhood of the meet : and all that was of 
passing interest in the short-run ring concentrated in 
the difficulty and disasters of a single impediment — 
which fairly " held up " a hundred people till hounds 
might have been two parishes away, and to all appear- 
ance were. A watercourse had been diverted into a 
new and clean-cut channel some ten feet broad and 
about as many deep. A bank remained beyond, a 
horse's length across, and a stout post-and-rails made 
up a double-fence, of a fashion with which neither we 
nor our horses are as yet familiar. Firr was riding a 
clever black that had graduated in Ireland ; so made 
no bones of the combination. The next pair refused, 

K 2 



132 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

the second fell in, the third fell over. Then came a 
complete jam. Everybody wanted to have it at the 
same spot, and everybody got in everybody else's 
way. The former bed of the stream ten yards to the 
rear prevented a fair run at any other point of the 
new channel. So there ensued at least ten minutes 
jostling agony, while twenty people dribbled over — 
then at last it was discovered that a bridge existed 
within a hundred yards, and relief came with the 
discovery that hounds were at fault by the Melton 
road. To conclude in a word — the day held no run 
at all. 

Last week, by the way, was a singularly unlucky 
one for Sir Bache and his field. In the fog of Thurs- 
day two couple of good hounds were cut up by a 
train ; Col. Gosling had a crushing fall over wire ; 
Mr. Tailby staked a valuable horse, and Mr. Fernie 
had a similar misfortune. Truly this pleasant open 
winter has not been without its equivalent sum of 
mishaps. 




CHAPTER XIII. 

THE NEW YEAR IN. 

TRULY grand day's sport was that of Mon- 
day, January 7th, with the Quorn. In the 
morning they ran a six-mile-and-a-half point 
in forty-three minutes. In the afternoon they ran 
for an hour without any absolute check, only aban- 
doning pursuit when, half an hour later, darkness 
found every horse completely tired. Both runs 
carried them far over the border, into the Duke's 
territory ; and both took them at a great pace 
over much beautiful ground. So rapid, stirring 
and profuse were the events of the day, that pen 
and head fairly stagger at the task of setting 
them even in skeleton shape before the public. In 
fancy I may still see the shifting stage, and its many 
actors flitting before me. But much of course I was 
not in a position to see, and much I failed to grasp in 
that turmoil of happy action. Besides (freely as by 
friendly indulgence I am allowed to presume), I have 
no licence to deal with men and their doings merely 
as if they were there to serve the purpose of the 
public and the printer's devil. I may, however, state 



134 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

a number of those who comprised the company ; and 
in sketching the sport shall crave the use of an occa- 
sional name as the prominence of its owner may 
compel. 

At the meet at Old Dalby were Mr. Coupland, his 
son, and Miss Webster, Lady Wilton, Lady Cardigan, 
Lord Belper and Miss Strutt, Mr. and Mrs. Penning- 
ton, Major and Miss Starkey, Mr. and Miss Chaplin, 
Miss Livingston, the Duke of Portland, Lord Manners, 
Gen. Chippindale, Col. Percy, Col. Forester, Capts. 
Smith, Henry, O'Neal, Ashton, Hill-Trevor, Campbell, 
Goodchild, M. Deschamps, Messrs. Brocklehurst, 
Beaumont, Behrens, E. Chaplin, Cheney, Cradock, 
Cochrane, Forester, Lubbock, C. W and R. Martin, 
Miles, O. and W Paget, Parker, Pole Carew, Pryor, 
Praed, Turner-Farley, Henton, Knight, Marshall, 
Pearson, Simpkin, Smith. 

The soft west wind of the early morning had veered 
a trifle to the north ; and had a bite about it that — 
added to a rising glass, wet ground, and a quiet sky — 
portended, nay, for once made a certainty of scent. 
It needed only the sight of the leading couples flying 
up the fallow above Grimston Gorse to show the 
certainty confirmed (for a first ploughed field is a sure 
criterion of scent in a grass country). Their fox had 
found himself, and crossed the railway cutting as the 
field was leisurely taking its place on the tunnel 
above. The huntsman was for the moment pent 



THE NEW YEAR IN. 1 35 

within the covert ; while, struggling and straining 
forth one by one, the eager hounds worked their way 
to the head, with the marvellous celerity that dis- 
tinguishes a highly bred and level pack. The body 
of them were through the small square wood of 
Saxelby close by, and were streaming up the green 
hillside beyond, ere the readiest horsemen had dipped 
the first valley. The bridle road to Wartnaby took 
hounds and men together for the first half-mile, and 
tempted many a rider too far along its ready path. 

Ye gods, how they fly ! The mottled pack, now 
running in a broad mass, in skimming up the second 
grass field in front ; we are crowding through a gate- 
way, into a rough meadow that is built for anything 
but rapid galloping. But spurs must go in, knees 
must press, and horses must be driven hard — whether 
those wet green furrows are as boggy as they look, 
whether the grass-hidden grips can catch us in the 
stride, or even if the effort is at the cost of wind and 
strength. The Duke of Portland is the only man 
within close hail of the pack ; and is making the best 
of such a chance on his good bay mare (the plum of 
Mr. Younger's recent sale). The fences are just what 
they should be when good turf leads up to their feet, 
viz., broad, strong, fair and clean. They come easy 
now, with the last hound flicking through each, as we 
skim the one before, with never a moment for the 
veriest coward to funk or crane. How long this may 



I36 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

last we know not. Suffice it that we conjure nothing 
better for the seventh — or seventeenth heaven. There 
are some awkward ravines and gullies in this happy 
district, we know only too well — and the Wartnaby 
Bottom has been a terror and a hindrance to genera- 
tions. Here it is, by all that's disappointing and 
terrifying — with its black fence frowning and its 
brookbanks yawning. But again do fox and hounds 
of themselves help us in dire extremity. We knew of 
no bridge or opening for a mile — and here, as in 
blank despair we follow men and hounds into the 
lowest corner, an old hidden gate is flung open by 
the foremost horsemen, and we are free to hurry 
forward at our best. On the big pasture opposite 
Wartnaby Hall, a flock of sheep dash across the front 
of hounds ; a man stands in his gig in the open road 
above, pointing onwards towards Cant's Thorns. The 
fox no doubt had eyes as ready and keen as those of 
the passing traveller ; but the swing of the pack in 
their own forward cast takes in the turn without a 
second's loss of time : and with undiminished pace 
they are onward over a succession of tight little 
meadows at the back of Kettleby. Capt. Smith and 
Mr. A. Brocklehurst land together into the road by 
the village — Firr joining them at the same instant as 
if from the clouds ; for certainly no other man could 
have made up the ground within fifteen minutes of 
extricating himself from the gorse, fully fifty people 



THE NEW YEAR IN. 1 37 

being then between him and hounds. The little 
brown is almost burst by the effort ; but, very shortly 
afterwards, Mr. Coupland snatches an opportunity to 
change horses —setting his huntsman on the grey — 
while a moment's breathing time easily enables the 
blown one to bring the Master to the end of the run. 

Another unjumpable bottom is to be crossed where 
bullocks have put fence and brook on the same level 
and where only a hurdle answers all purposes of 
winter gap-mending. How thankful we are — but how 
many yards we lose when such an outlet has to be 
carefully forded or a gate has to be unlatched ! And 
on a day like this we can almost measure by ear the 
distance of the flying pack — so clear and sharp and 
regular in its rapidly fleeting music. Now we are in 
the Nottingham and Melton road. Where are the 
hounds that we hear so plainly ? Yonder they flit by 
the railway side (the Holwell ironstone track). We 
have ridden the exact reverse of the line already this 
year with the Belvoir — and to this perhaps we owe 
the gallop of to-day. But what is really curious lies 
in the fact that we shall ride these very fences, creep 
these very holes, open these very gates, in a second 
run to-day. Let that remain. I promise myself and 
you to inflict no minute repetition. Tis all I can do 
to separate two runs so oddly entangled. 

The next I remember in this hurried chase is half 
a dozen hot-faced men huddled in a corner- — looking 



138 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

one to the other for assistance, and each looking less 
capable than the other of giving it. A new white 
oxer in front, a drop beyond — two refusals against 
the side fence — and " bellows-to-mend " all round. 
But the good sorrel war-horse, that has become almost 
as famed and familiar as his master, is equal to this 
or any other similar occasion. The white rails are 
shown to be no impossibility — and the next comer, 
bringing still further evidence, and weight, to bear, 
removes their self-assertion altogether. 

The pack runs the waggonway for hall a mile ; 
most of us run it a mile, and join the bridleroad 
throng from Wartnaby, Kettleby, and Holwell. But 
Mr. Cochrane carries out the principle of seniores 
priores by boring a way through the overhanging 
bullfinch alongside — and carries out also the hunts- 
man and a grateful following from the trammels of 
the waggonway — though he bears an honourable scar 
on his cheek for the rest of the day, perhaps for the 
rest of the week. The covert-lined glen of Old Hills 
is at this time just to the right; and we top the hill to 
double two more roads, to leave Clawson Thorns wide 
on the left — and to gallop up to another ironstone 
railway. (It has been my fate to write of hunting for 
some fifteen years — and I aver, in sorrow and in 
truth, that the word raihvay is at the end of my pen 
at least fifteen times oftener now than when I was 
first entered to ink.) An old man fumbles willingly 



THE NEW YEAR IN. 1 39 

at the padlocked gates by his farmside : Firr rides 
lucklessly down to another pair of white gates some 
fifty yards away, where there are not even a pair of 
clumsy willing hands with a key — while in anguish of 
soul he marks bold and bedraggled Reynard toiling 
up the next field, hounds a hundred yards behind 
him, and a flock of sheep scuttling between. Who 
shall say that a huntsman's career is without its 
agony ? To make matters worse, two quarrymen 
stoutly aver that they have stood for quite a quarter 
of an hour in the very gateway through which the fox 
has actually passed ! Such is information from the 
passing clod, whose eyes, startled from accustomed 
vacancy or the ground, have risen to the coming fray. 
But for the quarrymen, but for the sheep, but for 
the locked railway gates, that fox might have 
been handled within half an hour. As it is, he is 
able to stay above ground for five-and-forty minutes, 
and to bring his brush safely to the main earths in 
Goadby Gorse — his point and goal throughout. This 
little check is the only one of a straight and superb 
gallop. Recognising familiar ground as we go, we 
find ourselves opening two of the bridle gates by 
which we canter from Melton to a meet at Piper 
Hole. Now we are bearing down upon the Spinney 
of Scalford Bog (the fences happily diminishing in size 
as jumping power fades) ; and now Capt. Ashton 
views the beaten fox once more just before hounds. 



140 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

At the little hamlet of Wykeham, midway between 
the villages of Scalford and Goadby Marwood, foot- 
people are running, shouting, and pointing on both 
sides. One fox has passed between the houses ; but 
the hounds never leave their game, race him up the 
road, and dash into Goadby Gorse — only to worry 
and tear at the tiles of the artificial earth instead of 
wetting their teeth on his savoury sides. So a gallant 
fox lives — after as true and honest a gallop as ever 
did credit to the Ouorn, or helped to make a season 
famous. 

But seldom does it happen that a day boasting of 
one great gallop is blessed with another of almost 
equal merit. In some respects the second of to-day 
eclipsed the first. It was not so straight ; nor was it 
so decisive. But hounds were going fast for a full 
hour before checking at all — having of course 
changed foxes at some period or other of the run. 
Had the two events taken place on different days we 
should certainly have credited the greater part of 
both to the same fox. As it is, we cannot but 
believe the two heroes to have been members, if not 
of the same family, at least of the same foraging 
party. 

Welby Fishpond is a combinate covert of willow- 
bed and gorse — the latter a two-year-old growth on a 
sunny slope facing towards Melton (which is some 
three miles away), A strong cluster of men (mostly 



THE NEW YEAR IN. 141 

on their second horses) stood on the opposite hillside; 
and bold Reynard went away before their faces, 
almost unasked. The huntsman was out of covert, 
and hounds laid on in a trice. From the very first 
they went to work with all the briskness of the 
morning ; dashing hotly past the little spinney of 
Cant's Thorns, and cutting almost at once into the 
line they had travelled in the merry forenoon. As 
then, they raced across the green meadows of 
Kettleby Parish ; and soon afterwards crossed the 
Holwell waggonway for Old Hills. Now again our 
friend fox came to the rescue — pointing out where, 
and where only it was possible to cross the double- 
timbered barrier. A twenty-feet breach had been 
left in the woodwork as if for this special occasion ; 
and by this means men were able to dive in-and-out 
of the Old Hills gully with the hounds, and fairly 
steeplechase after them, over the road and down the 
valley beyond — pointing for Scalford Village exactly 
as in the morning. A close little knot of riders 
made up the first flight this afternoon — including, 
among others, and in addition to the few whose 
names have already been set down in connection 
with the first run, Lord Belper and Capt. O'Neal, 
Mr. and Mrs. Pennington, Mr. and Miss Chaplin, 
Major and Miss Starkey, Mr. Beaumont, Mr. Hume, 
Mr. Newton, &c. Most of these had held an equally 
good position in the former gallop; and, in truth, to 



t<\2 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORtS, 

the three ladies really belong the honours of the day, 
for each had but one horse to depend upon — whereas 
Capt. Smith and Capt. King were almost the only 
men carried by the same horse throughout. But 
now hounds swung sharp to the right ; carried us 
over the Melton-and-Scalford road ; and led us over 
the ford below Melton Spinney (pace and ground still 
as good as ever). Between the covert and brook they 
ran on without giving us a moment's pull ; and beat 
everyone as they turned over the hill for Thorpe 
Arnold. A still further bend to the left made it seem 
as if either their fox must be beat or that they had 
changed on to one of less boldness of purpose. Still 
they drove hard and sped on — the wet ground ready 
to retain any and every scent to-day. The Thorpe 
Arnold brook was forded ; and men hurried up the 
plough to the Melton-and-Waltham road, straining 
hard to get on terms with hounds- — now almost 
undiscernible through a quarter-of-a-mile of thin 
driving mist. Fox and hounds threaded the road for 
fully a mile-and-a-half ; but some passer-by headed 
the former from the Broom Covert, and turned him 
again over this ridge of plough to the left of 
Waltham. Over hill and dale (now again upon 
grass) men—and even the ladies mentioned— 
struggled on with tired and fainting horses. In this 
plight they had to jump the little brook by Chaldwell 
village ; and shortly afterwards found themselves at 



The new year in. 143 

Wykeham, close to where the last run had ended. A 
sudden turn back brought them again to the brook, 
over which they had just scrambled ; and those who 
had strength enough left under them rejoined many 
comrades who had failed to cross the stream at all. 
The country side — and especially the Waltham road 
— was by this time freely dotted with beaten horses ; 
and a gallop could scarcely have been raised among 
the little party still with hounds. But, for the first 
time since the find, the pack now came to slower 
hunting — and thus they worked back to Melton 
Spinney. At every moment was a kill expected, and 
ardently prayed for. But failing light and failing 
horses put an end to the hope: and, as the hunt again 
reached the edge of Melton Spinney, Mr. Coup] and 
decided to give the word for home, and to leave the 
covert undisturbed. 

The following will speak for itself as having been 
penned previous to the above brilliant Monday. 

To conclude the first week of the New Year — • 
Friday, Jan. 4th, was perhaps the hottest day, 
Saturday certainly the wettest, of a so far unbroken 
season. A New Year, besides pointing its thousand 
morals, means that another season is already half over 
-—and we wake to the fact almost ere thoroughly 
warmed to work. Late weeks — though open, 
pleasant, and redolent of health and good company — 
have been marked with but few strong episodes to 



144 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

instance and notify the lapse of time. We have gone 
a-hunting as regularly as we have come home with a 
staunch appetite, and seldom without sport — often 
indeed with a flush of it. The only anxiety for the 
morrow has been the horse, a decently sound horse, 
and a horse that would do us no discredit. A second- 
rate brute is certain, in ten minutes at the most, to 
show up himself, and you, in this drastic country and 
company. He may not fall. He may gallop ; he 
may not refuse ; he may scramble over the line. But 
he puts you at the mercy, and as it were at the feet, of 
others. He does what he is obliged ; and does that 
badly. He has no soul, no enterprise, no love for the 
business — and dares you to indulge in the ephemeral 
prompting of ambitious fooling. You can't leave him 
at home ; for what with the young ones going lame, 
and the old ones going sore, the weather mild, every- 
body hunting every day, he must take his turn — and 
you (not I, for wc never confess to our failures) must 
make the best of a bad bargain. 

But, as I was about to say, runs sterling, fast, and 
decisive — such as we like to consider and report as 
typical of Leicestershire — have not been freely 
illustrating the pages of its recent history. A grand 
and very venerable authority, the Rev. John Russell 
(whose lately published Memoirs should move the 
heart of every fox-hunter), gave it as a doctrine that 
there " is never a scent on a quite still day." Now 



THE NEW YEAR IN. 145 

the weather of late has been heavy, dull and oppressive 
— and the sport has kept tune to it. If I may dare 
to propose an amendment on a subject so inscrutable, 
I would suggest autumn stillness and zvinter zvind 
(never a brewing or growing storm) as possible 
conditions — founded on recent seasons. But let older 
heads rebuke me, bidding me Hold my peace, 
and, Look out for a run that may come at any 
time ! 

Barometer and thermometer, however, had better 
be put to a practical use — if comfort in riding be an 
object. I mean en the minor point of how to clothe. 
Hot leathers and Newmarket " sweaters " (I make no 
apology for touching on articles of apparel that in 
these enlightened days are held to be not out of 
place on feminine lips, nor even, I am induced to 
believe, on feminine limbs and frames) should not be 
donned when thermometer registers 45° and baro- 
meter is at the top of the tree with a southerly wind. 
Positively it was a shocking spectacle on Friday, to 
the eye of anyone who set store on the personal 
appearance of his intimate friends ! A melting mood 
in practical sympathy might well be pardoned to the 
observer, when all around him were bathed in a 
midday moisture defying any delicate synonym 
And all this in pursuit of a twisting, twirling fox — 
or rather, of hounds they could not reach, by reason 
of the devastating railway that ruins the Scraptoft 



I46 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

and Keyham region. If any individual exception 
could combat the overpowering heat it was the bold 
rider " whose cheeks were fanned, on the other hand, 
by the galloping grey, seen bolting away " (For 
remainder, see Ingarsby Legends, Trial Canto). 

This Quorn Friday commenced at Keyham, with 
all the honours of a fete Leieestrian and a show of 
equipage and equestrianism that did credit to our 
flourishing city. But the element flooding the 
covertside at Scraptoft was the schoolboys — who 
came in such shoals as Leech never dreamed of 
when he drew his picture of Home for the Holidays. 
What funny little fellows on funny little nags were 
many of them ! I am not referring thus presump- 
tuously to the sturdy thrusters just sprouting into 
manhood — who are dubbed mashers almost ere 
breeched and birched, and who are encased in 
collars so lofty that their young elders of Melton and 
Meynell have been utterly put to shame, and are now 
forced to hold a double-round-choker to be the only 
proper throat lash for hunting-men over twenty-and- 
three. No, these upper teens are a splendid body of 
rising chivalry — that will replace us and oust us, long 
before we want to clear out, or have even reached the 
stage of heading foxes by " sinking the wind." But 
it is noticeable at this festive and family period that 
men, with whom " only the other day " we were 
contentedly classed as " young fellows," are now to 



THE NEW YEAR IN. 1 47 

be seen each with his ruddy offspring (single, double, 
or in triplets) behind him — the youngsters on 
shaggy ponies, which cheerfully and confidingly hob- 
nob against the paternal hocks and make our blood 
run cold by titivating the flank of the most notorious 
kicker in the field. Papa's quiver would probably 
stand a call upon it quite as readily as his sorely 
tried purse. But Providence has fortunately more 
consideration for the former than for the latter— and 
the small Nimrods survive to be paid for, in spite of 
all the perils of a Quorn Friday. 

The Scraptoft fox turned at Ingarsby after his first 
mile, and when there was no apparent need for his 
doing so. Afterwards he had little choice, as he 
found himself amid chains of carriages and streams of 
horsemen. But stealing away from the entanglement 
he made nearly a six-mile point to Gaddesby, by 
way of Barkby Holt, and was rattled to death in three 
cheese-plate circles round a stiff close country twixt 
Gaddesby and Queniboro'. (An hour and a half of 
hot hard work, at least for the man who had to kill 
him.) I wish the same end had been in store for the 
Ashby Pastures fox of the afternoon — the same, no 
doubt, that about three weeks ago also zigzagged so 
curiously. Well, he played the same trick to-day to a 
still less temperate field — and, believe me, not even a 
hound was killed. But he must soon surely have the 
death of a couple or two at his door — unless his mask 

L 2 



I48 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

is speedily nailed over the kennel, or these Quorn 
Fridays are held at Bunney. 

Saturday, Jan. 5, opened so fair and fine for the 
Cottesmore meet at Pickwell that we had never a 
thought of a wetting, and there was never a water- 
proof — scarcely a shabby coat or hat — in the field. 
About this time of the year we begin to replenish our 
kits, or to bring coat or habit out of the silver paper 
from which we were loath to release it too soon. And 
a lawn meet such as Pickwell, whereat at least three 
Hunts will be represented, must ever constitute an 
occasion demanding our smartest apparel. So we 
were all smiles at the meet — unless the new garment 
was not forthcoming, and the old one was felt to be 
wofully threadbare, or — worse still — if the new vest- 
ment of our heart's vanity was felt to be a misfit and 
a failure. But exactly in a contrary ratio did our 
spirits rise or fall, when the drenching rain began as we 
neared the Punchbowl. But this has little to do with 
the sport. Nor, for once, had the Punchbowl. It 
was with the second fox that a straight gallop of five- 
and-twenty minutes was enacted, to put men on 
pleasant terms with themselves and the day. They 
found him in Berry Gorse ; and, though in three 
fields it was obvious that there was only half a. scent, 
he kept his head bravely up the wind — and hounds 
made all possible capital of the indulgence. They 
took us a right good line — and fortunately did not 



THE NEW YEAR IN. 1 49 

hurry us over the brook on the Burton Flat. Three 
or four men jumped it ; many others scrambled in 
and out ; and there was ample time to go round. 
But over the top of Gartree Hill (just avoiding the 
covert) they made the pace much better ; and, leaving 
Great Dalby to the right, went straight and nicely to 
the earths between Adam's Gorse and Thorpe 
Satchville in the Quorn country. Had the test, of 
country and pace, been yet more severe, there were 
riders with hounds quite equal to meeting it — for 
instance Mr. Baird, Lord Manners, Major Starkey, 
Capt. Smith, Capt. Blair, Messrs. Barclay, Beaumont, 
Brocklehurst, Arthur Coventry, Deschamps, G. Far- 
quhar, Jacobson, Marshall, Pennington. 




CHAPTER XIV- 

ONE WEEK'S WORK. 

SHE sport of such a season as this puts a heavy 
|^I§ — even if a happy — burden on the poor 
recorder. He has all the difficulties with 
which others are contending — e.g. a stricken purse, 
over-worked horses, an infatuated zest for the sport, 
perhaps a feeble frame — supported only by a healthy 
appetite and after-dinner somnolence, and a strong 
dislike to remaining at home in fair hunting weather 
when others are riding gaily to hounds over (may I 
repeat the well-tried assertion ?) the very best 
countries in England. To see the sport, he should be 
abroad and in the saddle. To write of it, he should 
be at home with the pen. If the Gulf Stream has 
really changed its course and warm winters are to be 
the steady rule, The Field should in common fairness 
go with the tide and provide each of its corre- 
spondents with an amanuensis, who shall put our 
post-prandial memories into more readable shape 
than can be expected of drowsy frames and rein-worn 
fingers. Even the luxury of an honest cropper must 
be denied to the weekly scribbler, lest its effects 



ONE WEEKS WORK. 151 

should interfere with his Thursday's wool-gathering. 
And yet even he cannot be carried to hounds in a 
band-box. 

Given open and favourable weather, January must 
at all times be the best and steadiest hunting month 
of the year. All the foxes are then strong and 
capable ; and horses and hounds have just attained 
thoroughness of condition. A pack must run level 
now (temporary and trifling ailments duly considered) 
if, as it should be, it is built without a tail and topped 
of that most mischievous of all incumbrances, a run- 
away head. Horses can now do forty minutes with- 
out distress, where seventeen would have settled them 
in November. And this year we ride above ground 
and gallop and jump with the turf springing under us. 
Ah, 'tis a jolly season ! Shall we look for many like 
it? 

The Quorn and the Belvoir put their stamp on the 
concluding days of the week ending January 12 — • 
carrying on the wave of sport, and proving once more 
how a brilliant scent will come for a period rather 
than for isolated days. Nothing could — to all ap- 
pearance — have been more unfavourable than Friday, 
with black clouds being driven across the sky in a 
gale of wind, and a storm of cold rain making us all 
miserable before noon. The morning was horrible, 
the middle of the day detestable, and if we resisted 
example and a strong inner prompting for home 



152 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

(when even from Thorpe Trussels hounds were utterly 
helpless on an afternoon fox) — it was only from fear of 
the dread epithet " chalk," or from some former pitiful 
memory of a run achieved after we had " turned home 
to tea." But the huntsman laboured on, and most of 
us followed — holding to our hats, and in the bustle of 
movement at least beginning to cease our shivering 
and feel our feet. If the country was familiar, one 
could not fail to mark that the snug little copse of 
Adam's Gorse was not altogether left out of calcu- 
lation in the huntsman's final cast. We remembered 
that foxes were said to have been bred here ; and we 
knew that hounds had not been in it this season. So 
possibly we were near enough to see the whip's cap 
go up, and hounds spring forth without horn or 
holloa. The old Burrough steeplechase course — some 
of the nicest riding and best scenting-ground in the 
Hunt's possession — lies just over the brow ; and right 
merrily now we all larked over it — led by Lord 
Rathdonnell, Mr. Farquhar, and the rider of all others 
to whom it has been a scene of triumph in the past. 
Hounds were close after their fox ; and did not mean 
to let the advantage slip — though, twice before 
reaching Gartree Hill, he left the open fields and 
followed the roads like a deer. The storms had passed 
away, and the evening was bright and clear. Scent 
had improved wonderfully ; and they ran on at once, 
fast as before, even over several deep rough ploughs 



one week's work. i 53 

beyond the covert. Regaining the grass they reached 
Berry Gorse, and held on across the Burton Flat at a 
fast hunting pace — till they reached the river opposite 
Brentingby. Leaving one or two of their pursuers in 
a branch stream, and forcing on all but Mr. Leatham 
a long detour, they were soon in Mr. Burbage's 
Covert, and very soon out of it. By this time they 
had been running more than half an hour ; and their 
fox was rapidly coming to hand. So, though he 
gained some little ground at the village of Burton 
Lazars, they easily tired him down in another turn 
across the Flat, ran him from scent to view, and 
pulled him down as he reached a little spinney 
within a quarter of a mile of Stapleford Park. To 
bring off a run so satisfactory on a day so unpro- 
pitious, was another laurel leaf in the Quorn wreath 
of '83-84. This chase occupied altogether about an 
hour, and covered an area between five and six miles 
in diameter. 

The Belvoir on Saturday (Jan. 12th) ran us nearly 
all to a standstill, in a tremendous gallop backwards 
and forwards between their own country and that of 
the Quorn. A slight rime frost and a bright sun 
rather hindered sport in the morning ; but made the 
day a delightful contrast to blustering yesterday (the 
bitter chill of which seemed to cling to our very 
marrow still). So from Old Hills they hunted under 
difficulties for upwards of an hour, crossing the 



154 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

border, and proceeding to return the compliment paid 
by the Quorn on the previous Monday. After 
escaping from Holwell and its labyrinth of iron tram- 
way, after passing Kettleby and nearly reaching 
Wartnaby, the hunt seemed to be over and luncheon 
became the order of the day. Happy they who 
seized it, and their second horses, before the alarm 
was sounded — or rather was whispered in startled 
accents — that the fox had jumped up in view, and 
hounds were away. Away they truly were, with a 
long long start — running very differently from the 
toilsome fashion of the morning. A mile of gates 
took us by Welby Fishpond, another mile of bridle- 
road landed half-way back to Old Hills ; and now 
the first whip had reached the hounds, and we could 
at least take our direction from them, instead of 
remaining longer mere blind atoms of a rushing 
torrent. Beyond Old Hills things became pleasanter 
still. And the hurry became less for a moment as we 
neared Scalford Village, by which time horses were 
already panting and choking. Here again we were 
in an entanglement of railways — and the sad disaster 
that had befallen the Fitzwilliam the day before came 
vividly to mind. The beautiful Belvoir dogs, how- 
ever, threaded the network unscathed — followed 
through the intricacies by some few horsemen, among 
whom Mr. Watson of Carlow was a prominent figure. 
The rest of us clattered the road through the village ; 



ONE WEEK'S WORK. I 55 

and the whole party reunited as hounds turned along 
the brow to Melton Spinney. One couple of hounds 
drove over the bordering fallow right into the covert ; 
but the bbdy (probably on a fresh fox) bore yet more 
to the right and dashed faster than ever. The ford 
let us through the brook beneath the covert, and an 
archway let us under the railway, and so we hurried 
towards Melton. The line of country hitherto crossed 
had, with the exception of the difficulties about 
Scalford Village, been remarkably easy. It was the 
same for yet another mile or so ; but, as horses grew 
tired and lungs gave out, the fences became less 
amenable — and natural, and heavy, consequences 
followed. Each field saw some new falling off, or 
falling down ; and as hounds passed behind Sysonby 
their following was not a tenth part of that of the 
forenoon. Still at a racing pace — and again over a 
useful well-gated country — the pack regained Welby 
Fishpond ; but, as before, passed without touching 
the covert, and turned leftward towards Ashfordby. 
At length — after forty-five minutes' incessant hard 
going — there came the long-needed check. But in 
another minute they were off once more, and the 
appalling environs of Ashfordby were entered. To 
ride over the close giant fences surrounding this 
village is a very hard trial to the best of horses in his 
first freshness. To find a way across them now was 
an obvious impossibility ; and road-riding became 



156 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

again compulsory. The delighted satire of the 
village wits was freely flung after the jaded and mud- 
bespattered party. But the latter, surviving the 
ordeal, made up their ground quickly by the aid 
of the resounding granite ; and were soon able to 
rejoin the pack among the pastures towards Grimstori. 
Of a sudden hounds stopped short by a brookside 
plantation — every head going up as if in doubt and 
wonder. Those who noticed the occurrence seem to 
agree that here again ensued another change of foxes. 
For, after this, the scent altered, and the fox before 
them had strength to reach Shobv Scoles at least five 
minutes in advance. But still they ran on — hunting 
their own way, though no longer with fire and pace — 
to within half a mile of Hoby Village. Thence in the 
fast-failing light they worked back almost to Ashford- 
by, giving up the pursuit at 4.30. For some time the 
moon had been eking out the twilight ; and quite two 
hours and a half had been spent in severe running and 
hunting between two points seven miles apart, and 
much of the ground being covered twice over. The 
horses ridden by Gillard and Arthur might perhaps 
have lasted a while longer ; but, with the exception of 
one or two second (or third ?) horses recently picked 
up, scarcely another steed had a gallop left in him. 
The remaining horsemen consisted, if I am not mis- 
taken, only of the Duke of Portland, Major Starkey, 
Captains Boyce, Smith, and Tennent ; Messrs. 



ONE WEEK'S WORK. 1 57 

Beaumont, B. Burdett Coutts, Crawley, G. Drummond, 
Foster, Knowles, Lubbock, Praed, and Pryor — with 
Down's little son on the tiniest of ponies ! 

With a kill after those forty-five minutes — and 
never was a kill more truly earned — this run would 
have been held a great event even in this truly 
wonderful season. 

Monday, January 14th, too, with the Quorn, was 
again more than an ordinary day. A first fox run 
down in an hour ; and a second escaping only, and 
almost literally, by the skin of his eyes, at the end of 
forty-three minutes — may be taken as leading facts 
that almost speak for themselves. The former was a 
handsome feat ; the latter was a brisker, smarter, 
event — having no claim to great honour, but thorough 
sharp foxhunting from a curious beginning to a luck- 
less end (I am not going to tell ; the fox is a dumb 
animal ; and the huntsman never flings his tongue 
rashly). 

The sport began at Thrussington Gorse (this year 
a very fertile and fruitful spot). We had heard a dim 
rumbling in covert — which might, or might not, have 
meant a fox caught asleep. But this passed ; and 
the huntsman's long-drawn note bade us move on to 
some other place of search — when a pair of keen and 
well-practised Yorkshire eyes found their reflex in a 
gorse bush just over the bordering edge. Reynard at 
once confessed himseif stared out of countenance ; 



158 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

gave up all further hope of concealment ; and was off. 
All the chief merit of this run lay with the huntsman. 
He worked it up into a sharp finish and a meritorious 
end, and brought his fox cleverly to hand. All the 
earlier part of his labour was down a west wind, and 
before a field of horsemen that left him and his hounds 
none too much time. With a quick scent the pack 
might have slipped everyone at Thrussington Wolds, 
so straight and sharp did their fox cut through the 
little wood and dodge the plough teams beyond. (If 
ploughing and shepherding were solely summer pur- 
suits, how much straighter would our foxes run !) 
But, after a half-circle towards Old Dalby, we once 
more found ourselves returning by Lord Aylesford's 
covert and clustered for awhile above the basin of 
Shoby Scoles. Thence up wind, over the old pastures 
of the Hoby Lordship was the brightest part of 
the journey, to all save misguided Reynard — who 
might easily have trotted out of scent into the Vale 
of Belvoir. But so it was : and so they hustled him 
up the breeze nearly to Cossington Gorse, and ate 
him almost on the lawn at Ragdale Hall. 

Walton Thorns for an afternoon fox and a new line— 
a direction almost unknown to modern Quornites, but 
one that they are only too ready to ride again as soon 
as opportunity may be provided. North and north- 
west of Six Hills (the central point of their Monday 
country) is a wild, but almost level, upland district — 



ONE WEEKS WORK. 1 59 

spreading for many miles in poor and often self-sown 
grass, that carries a scent under almost any conditions 
of wind and weather. (They went over much of it, 
about three weeks since, in t their great and lengthy 
run from Bunney Park.) Other merits possessed by 
this unfamiliar region are that it is slenderly inhabited, 
that it owns and requires very little draining, riding 
wet and sound throughout the winter, and that its 
hedges are just what you would pick out as schooling- 
material for a very third-rate or untaught horse. 
Indeed, I am inclined to think that — taking into 
consideration the further fact that the ditches are 
never cleared of briars and grass — an indifferent 
hunter, well cautioned with whip and spur for each 
fresh effort, is really a safer conveyance over such 
trifles than a bold flighty horse that would toy with 
an oxer. At least, if such is not the case (paradoxical 
as the theory may seem), Monday showed that much 
money had been spent in vain, and that even a couple 
of hundred (paid, too, on the nail) will not always 
keep a horse on his legs. So much for the country 
over which we now disported for some forty and odd 
minutes. Our fox went well and far when once fairly 
started on his way. But foxes see, and perhaps 
imagine, as many dangers besetting their path as we 
find in ours — their objects of dread being man and 
beast, ours the mere frail creation of carpenter, hedge- 
cutter, and over-fed fancy. In his first curious turn 



l6o THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

hounds ran over, and snapped up, another fox nestled 
in a fallow ; but after leaving Mr. Cradock's Spinney 
they held forward in a distinct direction, and faster as 
they went. In ten minutes more the inquiry as to 
" where we were " went in vain from mouth to mouth 
— so new and unridden was the region. We found 
our whereabouts for the moment, as we passed above 
Wimeswold village and threatened Cossington Gorse ; 
but speedily lost it again till some single individual 
could explain just before us was Wysall. Hounds 
were driving very sharply now — running for blood, 
their fox scarcely one field before them. Well, his 
good fortune had a prior claim. And there my story 
ends. 

On Thursday January 17th, Mr. Coupland gave a 
byeday at Prestwold to the Loughboro' ball-goers. 
The Melton division also trooped in to join the colours ; 
and the Master could not do less than adapt his bill 
of fare to the occasion created. So after IToton New 
Spinney he trotted on to Ellar's Gorse — but our old 
and worshipful acquaintance was not to be caught 
napping, even on a byeday, and stole away as soon 
as he heard the cavalcade trotting down the road. 

A brilliant burst from the Curate, however, retrieved 
the day, and revived the sinking spirits of the weary 
ones, who had trifled so unadvisedly with hours that — 
at least while sport and weather last — should be 
devoted only to carrying us forward from hunting-day 



ONE week's work. 161 

to hunting-day. I should have mentioned that a 
weak fox had already been run into in ten minutes 
from Willoughby Gorse. But the one from the Curate 
gave two and thirty minutes' rapid and excellent fun, 
before the pack bowled him over in the vale by 
Hickling. Post time precludes full particulars. But 
though hounds were baffled at starting by a sheepdog, 
they never left the line again, dipped into the Vale of 
Belvoir at Upper Broughton, hung most of their 
followers up among the wire by Nether Broughton, 
did the same in that horrid and dastardly network by 
Sherbrooke's Covert (after crossing the Broughton 
brook and causing much grief also there), and swept 
into their fox in a big pasture adjoining Hickling 
Church. As far as I can venture to express an 
opinion, three heavy weights, Capt. Townshend, the 
Duke of Portland, and Mr. Knowles beat all the 
lighter men. 

A little story comes to light this week illustrating 
only too lamentably the uncertain reward of humanity. 
All sportsmen are by nature sympathetic and humane 
— even though the feeling carries them quite as often 
with the pursuer as with the subject of his pursuit. 
Is not the following a nice instance of overstrained 
benevolence ? His Lordship's hounds had their fox 
almost in extremis — as may be guessed from the fact 
that he took refuge in the outhouse of an old lady's 
cottage. The kindly dame, perceiving his entrance, 

M 



1 62 



THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 



promptly turned the key — vowing that, come what 
might, the poor tired thing should have a night's 
lodging and refuge from his enemies. Hounds and 
huntsmen bustled about her tenement in vain inquiry ; 
while the old lady hugged the secret and her key, and 



-^MhWiMSu t}-»' 




"SAW HER FURRY GUEST RUSH GAILY OUT. 

indulged in gentle chuckling over her deed of mercy. 
The cruel marauders retired in disappointment ; the 
good soul went to bed to dream of charity and kind- 
ness to all creation — leaving her lodger to a night of 
well-earned rest. Rising earlier than usual next 
morning, and having studiously refrained from com- 
municating her cherished secret to a soul, she quietly 
opened the outhouse door ; and with a scream of 



ONE WEEK'S WORK. 163 

delight — bordering in the ecstasy of the moment 
closely on a view holloa — saw her furry guest rush 
gaily out, with frame invigorated and with brush erect. 
This would indeed be a triumph — an act of benefi- 
cence duly scored — a feat to be produced in minutest 
detail at many a cosy tea table ! Had poor Reynard 
been comfortable? Had he found a warm corner and 
curled himself on a soft couch of sweet-smelling hay ? 
Better still, he had made himself a featlier bed in the 
very middle of the floor. Oh, heavens ! — those two 
Dorking pullets, pure bred and already laying! Heads 
and tails, wings and feet lay scattered in miserable 
testimony. She had nursed a viper in her bosom — 
and her lamentations rent the air as she unfolded her 
bitter tale to her convulsed and heartless fellow- 
villagers. The scent of a fox appeals no more strongly 
to the nose of a hound than the mere name of the 
artful one now stinks in the nostrils of this kind old 
lady. / nunc, ingratis, offer te irrise pcriclis. 



m ; 



CHAPTER XV 



E. G. 




, r > r ^|^fer W\ .AD a man but to write a sin g le 
"7^, 7 * -■ * « * sample, entitle it "A Day with 

the Quorn," and set to work upon it as if the 

army of hunting correspondents and descriptors had 

never been called into being to wear a subject to 

its barest threads — he might do worse than take 

Friday, January 18th, for his subject. He would 



E. G. I65 

begin of course by drawing a lively picture of the 
gay meet before the old feudal Hall, descant upon 
the bevy of brightness and beauty on the stone 
portal steps, enumerate a score or two of the brave 
gentlemen—clad so trimly, even gaudily, yet with 
every point of their dainty attire so admirably 
adapted for work — making their bow before mount- 
ing. He might even pay a graceful tribute to 
the cup of welcome in waiting within ; and thus 
refreshed (metaphorically only, if his wisdom teeth 
be cut and the healthy recklessness of early youth be 
his no longer) proceed to scan and of course eulogise 
the pack which, by the way, never looks so little 
worth eulogy as when shivering and petulantly whin- 
ing on a lawn. He would put each man on his 
" well-known " brown, bay, grey, or chestnut — though 
Melton alone has on its books about three hundred 
horses, extraordinarily well-known to each Meltonian, 
it is true, but lost from their very confusion of number 
to all the profanum valgus beyond the walls of the 
metropolis, and at least a hundred of which are at the 
present time mere stable adornments — flourishing in 
leg buckets like hyacinths in drawing-room glasses, 
under the ruthless exaction of an uninterrupted 
season. As a matter of fact, the good old-fashioned 
sportsman, who never fails to give himself, and the 
horse that is to carry him all day, at least ten minutes 
alongside the pack at the meet, is a rare bird on these 



1 66 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

waters. His sprightlier prototype never goes to 
covert at less than three parts speed, and would as 
soon think of being first man at a ball as an early- 
lounger at a meet. A smoking hack, a cool hunter — 
another to follow — " good-morning " while galloping 
across the first field from covert, " good-night " at the 
last check, twelve miles an hour home, a hearty meal 
at 5, a heavy one at 8.30, perhaps early to nap, and 
late to bed — " Oh," as the ex-guardsman exclaimed 
regretfully of his " liquor-and-cards days," " them was 
times ! " And this is how they do it now-a-days. 

Having described all this, with a breadth of touch, 
a depth of intimacy, and a license of fancy that are 
altogether denied to the correspondent who makes 
one of the daily party, and whose utmost indulgence 
must at least be within the bounds allowed by the 
kindly good fellowship that allows him to do his work 
at all — the casual sketcher might employ a page of 
his book in depicting a view that, backed by the 
striking and historic mound of the Coplow, appeals 
to the not-unromantic eye of the sportsman as 
powerfully as any scrap of scenery in the shire of 
Shires. With the hilloa from across the valley, send- 
ing forth an outlying fox into the very midst of the 
camp followers spread out over the park — his pen and 
that of the weekly journalist must travel in the same 
practical groove, and move onward, more or less 
soberly, together. This hapless fox started with none 



e. c. 167 

of the honours of war or circumstance of sport. No 
hero of a gallant fight was he to be — no glorious 
victim whose every relic should be counted a worthy- 
trophy — though his heart may have been as courage- 
ous and his limbs as stout as those of any traveller 
that ever defied the Ouorn. He woke in his stubble- 
field to find himself face to face with some noisy 
varlet, bethought him at once of Baggrave or Ashby 
Pastures or other distant refuge, and pointed thither. — 
only to be pounced upon in Quenby Park by as fierce 
and persistent a colley dog as ever savaged a sheep 
or spoiled a run. The shepherd dog was speedy 
enough to have coursed a hare, bundled poor Reynard 
over in fifty yards, and never left him till the latter 
dragged his half-worried frame into a rabbit-hole by 
the railway-side. 

Then was the order given for Billesdon Coplow, 
and thence was the run— one hour and thirty-five 
minutes, over a wild strong country, with the death of 
a grand fine fox as a finish. 

Botany Bay, a dense blackthorn covert at the foot 
of The Coplow's wooded height, forms the real 
strength of that time-and-song-honoured landmark. 
Though a road bounds it on two sides, and the 
throng always spreads round its outskirts on every 
side, it is difficult even for a Quorn Friday field 
altogether to envelope it, or to prevent a really bold 
fox from making his course. The centre ride is the 



l68 the best season on record. 

usual rendezvous for men who would be ready to take 
any direction suggested by fox and hounds — and nine 
times out of ten this is over Coplow hill. To-day 
was neither an exception nor a trial of patience — for 
scarcely was the muddy ride fairly lined than the 
clear air was broken by a chorus of halloas from 
beneath the House, and Mr. Coupland galloped out 
to set hounds on the line of a ready rover. Through 
the gardens and round the base of the covert-clad 
slope facing the village of Billesdon scurried the 
anxious horsemen — blinded for a while to what the 
hounds might be doing, but knowing only too well 
how difficult a country lay beyond, and how often 
they had toiled over its steep green acclivities in vain 
pursuit of a fast-vanishing pack. For the rough 
broken hills 'twixt The Coplow and Tilton, or Skef- 
fington, carry a flying scent, grow whitethorn and 
blackthorn in their stoutest shape, and so put a 
hunter to a test requiring the climbing powers of a 
Welsh pony as well as all the jumping talent of a 
Leicestershire hunter. Now, the earliest and most 
eager had not circled the base ere the leading hounds 
were seen breasting the opposite slope, on which is 
situated what is always known as Tomlin's Spinney. 
Two ploughed fields fill the interval, and a well 
knitted stake-and-bound opposes the rider halfway 
up the hill. Mr. G. Farquhar and Mr. H. T. Barclay 
surmounted this, and were climbing to the brow, at 



E. G. 169 

about the same pace and angle as flies on a window 
pane, as Firr galloped down from the Coplow with 
the body of the pack at his heels. Arrived at the 
summit, the two were seen to separate — then, poising 
for a moment on different points to scan the deep 
gullies beyond, disappeared as utterly as the half 
dozen couples of which they rode in search. So, 
from one hilltop to another, the pair skirmished 
onward to keep the foremost couples in sight ; and 
occasional glimpses, now of Mr. Farquhar's black 
coat, now of Mr. Barclay's shooting jacket (the dis- 
habille in keeping with a recent crushing and scarce- 
recovered fall), now of the chestnut whisking through 
a bullfinch, now of the bay topping a binder, 
beckoned us, and guided the huntsman, in the 
required direction. For a mile or so, over these 
rough hills and pitches, the chase pointed towards 
Tilton ; then, bending suddenly to the right, made 
Skeffington its apparent line. Shepherd and hedge- 
cutter were sounding a shrill duet on the hillside near 
Billesdon windmill— gladly laying aside crook and 
billhook to throw all their energies into voice and 
gesture and assume a part in " killing the fox." If 
hunting ever ceases in the merry Midlands (of which 
in all seriousness and sobriety we may surely hope it 
may not) it will certainly never be through the ill-will 
of the labouring classes on the spot. Every villager 
learns to throw a view halloa, from the hour that as a 



170 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

schoolboy he cheers the jaded and irresponsive 
"hoonter" — or, as they often term him in his working 
robe, the " redman " on his homeward way. Every 
ploughman (a vocation, however, that in the grass 
countries has but a limited demand) or farm labourer, 
whatever may be his employ, looks to having his task 
pleasantly interrupted by horn and hound at intervals 
during the winter months — and never fails at once to 
break off work, lending all his interest to the passing 
chase. (I cannot, by the way, resist embodying in a 
brief parenthesis a summary of occupation given me 
not many days ago, by a young rustic working in the 
state of life in which he found himself called. He 
earned a shilling a day, too — considerably more than 
an ensign or sub-lieutenant when his kit is paid for. 
" What was his chief job on the farm ? " Answer— 
" Knocking clods." " Good boy. And what else ? ' 
Answer — " Gathering clods." Now, I appeal to that 
worshipful body, the Schoolboard— does not a round 
of labour, so comprehensive, varied and intellectual, 
of itself demand an occasional break, if only to pre- 
vent the overstrained mind of the clodhopper from 
slipping back to the level whence it is supposed to 
have been recently raised ?) But this is the class to 
whom, of all others, we must often owe cheery news 
of a fox in front. Now its two representatives 
pointed gleefully where Reynard had passed close by. 
" Such a big 'un, he wur ! " And such a big 'un he 



E. G. 171 

proved to be when Firr brushed him an hour and a 
quarter later. At this moment the huntsman got all 
his hounds to the head ; and, with the pack fully 
massed, found himself in a country almost new to 
him, from his Quorn experience. They had crossed 
the Uppingham turnpike (the marginal line separating 
the hunting grounds of Sir Bache Cunard from those 
of the Quorn and Cottesmore). Skeffington was on 
his left, Billesdon on his right, Rolleston in front, and 
a wide sweeping succession of grassy hill-and-vale all 
round. But, though the pace had been fast till now 
— faster because of the difficulties that separated men 
from hounds — it failed rather than improved under 
bettered conditions. They went steadily on, how- 
ever, to Rolleston, past its covert, and out beyond 
towards Goadby. A sharp turn to the left, and (by 
common consent and encomium) some beautiful hunt- 
ing, took them to Keythorpe. Round the succession 
of spinneys of that domain they followed their fox, 
and set afoot a brace of others. But, happily avert- 
ing a threatened change, the huntsman dropped on to 
his now exhausted quarry, drove him through another 
small plantation, and, in two fields more, had the 
gratification and triumph of standing over his stiffened 
remains on open ground. 



CHAPTER XVI. 

HEARSAY. 

, EARSAY is a commodity of so little value that 
h (j& If men °^ *-he wor ld (am I right in excluding 
the other sex ?) except it as so much loose 
chaff, fit only to form a plaything for the winds, or to 
accumulate in the stray corners of naturally empty 
minds — seldom, if ever, to be gathered and stored for 
the sake of any tangible worth it may possess. But 
such a proper and well-earned estimate is, like all 
other dogmatism, open to exception. Hearsay in the 
shape of a mere on dit— which, out of an indifferent 
acquaintance with Gallic idioms, I take to infer the 
vapid utterance of nobody in particular, but rather 
the mere chance gossip which embraces every topic, 
affecting intimacy with each, and proving no know- 
ledge of any — is obviously worthless, but is rightly 
held by the world at large as being only a convenient 
medium through which to discuss in safety, and with 
some additional piquancy, the affairs of their neigh- 
bours. On rtY/-ship, indeed, is of itself a branch of 
science, in which, of our frailty, we are all too prone 



HEARSAY. 173 

to dabble ; but the professors of which carry with 
them a weight altogether out of proportion to the 
school they represent or the art they demonstrate. 
An on d it-man fulfills a very important function in 
society. I don't think that his fellow males regard 
him greatly — though womenkind delight in him, and 
to them he is invaluable. He is the essential oil of 
their social gatherings — whether these take the form 
of "little dinners" or the lower grade of small tea- 
parties. " He knows so much about people, and has 
such a pleasant way of communicating it ; " and so 
will keep a whole table amused, upon topics in which 
they can all display an interest. He has a role to 
perform, a character to maintain — and he is not going 
to mar the one or lose the other for lack of informa- 
tion. It is nobody's duty — and scarcely anybody's 
inclination — to " give him the lie " when he trips 
gaily and pleasantly over the bounds of truth into the 
fascinating fields of fiction. And the mischief he 
does is worthy of the master who prompts him. 

But hearsay of a different kind — and in a sense 
quite opposed to that of chance gleaning from stray 
utterance — that is to say, information acquired on a 
particular subject from a practical mind striving 
only to convey facts — should suffer little by having 
to be committed to writing by a middleman. Yet 
I believe there is no topic under the sun on which 
it is more difficult to arrive at satisfactory detail and 



174 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

estimate at the mouth of others than a run with 
hounds. (Of my own shortcomings in this direction 
as narrator and commentator I am fully, honestly, 
and lamentably conscious.) A very fast run is seen 
but by a very few — even in this essentially hard- 
riding country. Those few are up in their stirrups ; 
have been drinking nectar with the gods ; and are 
rapturous over the Elysium of which they have had a 
glimpse. Am I right in saying that their number 
seldom exceeds half a dozen — the every move and 
turn of whom has depended on what they could see 
of the leading hounds ? Certainly I am, in referring 
to our best and strongest country — and leaving out 
altogether the great open hills of High Leicestershire, 
where men must more often ride in the distant wake 
of hounds than comfortably to them — for the fences 
do not offer openings enough for more, and the very 
crowd prohibits even the keenest and readiest riders 
from invariably securing a front place. Of these 
fortunate few, the best man of all perhaps is one who, 
though he has ridden the country for twenty years, 
still gathers a double enjoyment from his hunting in 
never knowing where he is ; another is a new comer, 
riding his hardest in a strange country, or even 
perhaps a foreigner who can scarcely find his way to 
the meets ; a third has been riding a " handful," who 
left him no leisure for looking about him ; a fourth 
lives for steeple-chasing, and regards the hounds only 



HEARSAY. 175 

as so many moveable, and often inconvenient, flags ; 
a fifth, who knows every yard of ground for twenty 
miles round, has slipped off directly after the gallop 
to catch a train to London — and you are very lucky 
if you can get hold of the sixth, with a guarantee that 
he is communicative, accurate, intimate with the 
country, and not disposed to crab the run because his 
old bay mare could not quite go the pace with the 
galloping quads of Nos. 1 and 4. Then the other 
hard — but for the nonce unlucky — men cannot help 
feeling a trifle sulky ; and be they the best fellows in 
the world — as they probably are — it would be asking 
too much of human nature, to expect them to invest 
the gallop with the rosy surroundings it perhaps 
deserves, or to be eloquent on what they have 
avowedly and unhappily " missed." The larger mass 
aver they have " had a splendid run, and have 
enjoyed themselves immensely " — though they have 
not seen a hound all the way, and can tell you little 
more than that the fox was found in one place, killed 
in another, adding very possibly that " they were well 
in it." The last-named authorities are, however, 
usually good timekeepers. A good, but not racing, 
run again gives wider opportunity of observation, and 
consequently greater facility for imparting the infor- 
mation required — though even under these bettered 
circumstances many events will be found described 
from the point of view of quot homines tot sententics ; 



176 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

and each man cannot but temper his opinion by the 
measure in which he has enjoyed himself. A bad or 
even indifferent run puts us out of the difficulty — for 
as a matter of either description or memory it is as well 
consigned at once to oblivion. 

But, among the many sterling sportsmen at all 
times prepared to seize their share of the fun, who 
have outlived jealousy, have bought experience, 
acquired an intimate knowledge of country, and who 
hunt for hunting's sake, there are always to be found 
some who are not only capable, but willing, to convey 
a just outline of events and scene. And kindly com- 
rades as these ever are amid the stirring fellowship of 
the field, their sympathy flows still more readily in 
the time of need and helplessness.* 

Wild and stormy as were the two final days ot last 
week (January 25 and 26), Hearsay avers stoutly and 
circumstantially that they were replete with sport. 
The morning of Friday certainly seemed to settle 
into temporary and comparative calm : the Quorn 
met at Ashby Folville ; and it called for no great 
stretch of fancy to credit Ashby Pastures with 
another fox, or Fortune's favourite pack with another 
goodly run. No matter what visions may have visited 
a bedside, or what yearnings have made the heart 

* It will be understood that an accident in the field had rendered 
the author a temporary cripple, and dependent altogether upon kindly 
friends for knowledge of passing events. 



HEARSAY. 177 

sick — 'the following is what happened out of doors. 
The meagre sport of the forenoon (wherein Tom Firr 
was the animal most closely and generally hunted) 
served its purpose in reducing the field to a moiety of 
its grosser self; and Ashby Pastures became the 
sheet-anchor of the afternoon, to a sterling and well- 
horsed company. These had their mettle first tested 
by a hot and cheery ring of some ten minutes over 
the Ashby grass — regaining the Pastures with their 
fox already half-burst. The field then kept to the 
Great Dalby road — while hounds threaded the wood 
on their left hand, to emerge at the lower end and 
close at their fox. Rising the next hill, they left 
Sanham considerably to the right ; and though 
plough lay in the way almost till Eye Kettleby 
Lodge, the pack never faltered for a moment. Suc- 
cessfully overcoming (/. e. the hounds) or avoiding 
(z. e. the people) the difficulties of the North-Western 
line, they then followed the Burton Lane — hounds 
taking the strongly enclosed meadows on the left, 
people the deep muddy cart track, till they reached 
the Melton and Oakham road about the site of the 
Old Burton tollbar. I should have mentioned that 
their fox had held not more than a hundred-and-fifty 
yards lead as he re-entered Ashby Pastures ; and he 
maintained about the same relative position at the 
point last-named. But he was by no means killed 
yet. He kept straight forward over the road, across 



I7§ THE BEST SEASON ON fcECORD. 

the great grass fields and the river into Mr. Burbage's 
Covert, found the thick blackthorn too stifling to 
breathe in, so cut through the corner of it at once, re- 
swam the river, and struggled on for Stapleford. A 
forward view allowed huntsmen and riders generally 
to cross the angle without nearing the ford ; and now 
it became only a question of avoiding a change to 
ensure a speedy kill. (More times than I like to 
remember have I known a beaten fox left for a fresh 
one on this Burton Flat.) As nearly as possible 
would the dreaded change appear to have happened 
as the chase passed Mr. Hartopp's " white-rabbit ' 
spinney, by the road side. Hounds diverged on to a 
crossline, just as the whip had his cap up on the 
sinking fox ; Mr. Coupland made light of two deep 
fallows to get at their heads ; they swung sharply to 
the horn, and next minute were hard after their fox 
into Laxton's Covert. A minute or two more hither 
and thither, through the covert, then a moment's dead 
silence, then a sudden crashing chorus and the 
welcome zvho-iv/toop over a fox well earned and well 
killed. At an hour and ten minutes Hearsay states 
the time ; while the distance from Ashby Pastures to 
Laxton's Covert is about six miles by flight of crow, 
in addition to the early ring. It may possibly be 
argued that the frequent and handy roads in some 
degree tamed the riding of the run ; but, let that be 
as it may, or as it seemed, this was a gallant and 



HEARSAY. 179 

satisfactory hunt — as, I wager me, Master, huntsmen, 
and every sportsman out will join with Hearsay in 
averring. 

Watching the dark clouds driven across an angry 
sky before a cold southerly wind, and knowing the 
barometer to have sustained a heavy fall — it was dif- 
ficult to imagine hounds running hard on Saturday 
last, January 26th. But I learn that there was a 
rattling scent all day with the Belvoir, and that the 
Quorn had a good forty minutes. The former pack 
met at Hose, in the vale of Belvoir : the latter at 
Lodge-on-the- Wolds, on the opposite hills towards 
Nottingham. Hose is nearer Melton ; so fashion 
went with the former— and the two packs, though 
avoiding an absolute clash, were together in Roehoe 
Wood in the course of the day. And what the Mel- 
tonians saw was as follows — Hose Gorse blank ; 
Sherbrooke's Gorse apparently so, even though its 
earth was duly visited and examined. A local 
authority, however, insisted it was tenanted ; a second 
visit was paid ; and the visitor, heaving a stone into 
the cavern, found a startling response in Reynard 
bolting right between his legs. No further time was 
lost in covert ; hounds leaving on the goodly terms 
which half ensure a run from the small gorses of the 
midlands. Overlooking Hickling village, and towards 
Parson's Thorns, is the grass-clad hill of Hickling 
Standard. Up this and into the breeze, hounds drove 

n 2 



1 8© THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

merrily ; then bent to the right over the green en- 
closures behind Hickling and Kinoulton. With men 
and horses fairly warmed, a thoroughly pictorial 
Leicestershire scene was, I am told, enacted. A 
tributary of the Smite drains the vale here ; and is 
neatly and deeply cut as it passes the villages named. 
Smooth turf leads downhill towards it, and covers the 
bank beyond — the latter rising almost a foot higher 
than the take-off, and half hidden moreover by the 
sheltering hedge. A dozen men came at it nearly 
abreast. Mr. Pennington on his brown Yorkshire 
mare hit off, perhaps, the. broadest spot, and reached 
the other side with a fall. Mr. Barclay and his hog- 
maned chestnut took some time to assure themselves 
that they had really arrived thither in company. Mr. 
Lubbock, the Duke of Portland, Mr. Pryor and the 
first whip got over in safety ; while, according as luck 
directed or horseflesh failed them, Mr. Beaumont, 
Count Kaunitz, Mr. G. Paget, Mr. A. Brocklehurst, 
and half a dozen others filled in the picture with 
success or disaster. (On this head I refrained from 
demanding further details from Hearsay.) Turning 
now towards the upper ground, hounds left Kinoulton 
" Gorse " a little to the right, and made up a capital 
twenty minutes into Roehoe Wood. Running the 
length of it, they pointed for Wynstay Gorse ; till a 
shepherd dog put a veto on their movements in that 
direction, and drove their fox back through the 



HEARSAY. l8l 

covert. At this moment Firr's unmistakable voice 
rang up the wood ; and the followers ot the two 
packs found themselves commingling — Mr. Sher- 
brooke, indeed, leaving the Quorn (the nearer pack 
in the morning) went on with the Belvoir, to see their 
fox killed from his own covert. This was effected 
when — after slower hunting round The Parson's — the 
circle was all but complete, and their beaten fox got 
to ground in the bank of the Smite, at no great dis- 
tance from Sherbrooke's Gorse. A full term of law 
was no use to his stiffened limbs ; and when bolted 
he was speedily caught. Time to ground, one hour 
and three minutes. Then they went to Clawson 
Thorns, on the other edge of the Vale, ran hard for 
some ten minutes on the upper ground, when the 
pack divided — the stronger lot, with the whip trying 
to stop them, plunging through Piper Hole Gorse, 
and killing their fox some little distance beyond it. 
Gillard, meantime, stuck to his line with three couple 
and a half — the latter proving the scent by running 
very fast for another eighteen minutes, by Scalford 
Bog and Goadby Bullamore, near which the missing 
whip reappeared — with the body of the pack, the 
head of his fox, and a dirty coat. Thence they 
quickly reached Stathern Point, the commencement 
of the Belvoir Woods — forty minutes constituting the 
total run from Clawson Thorns, and a violent storm 
driving everyone homeward, 



1 82 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD, 

Monday, January 28th — though a Sunday visita- 
tion of frost and snow had vanished as quickly as it 
came — was the first indifferent link in recent coils 
of the Quorn daily history. A poor day, in less 
figurative language, with an accompanying epithet 
added by Hearsay, who is not above considering 
himself injured if scent and sport are not made 
exactly according to his order, and who seldom fails 
to express himself much more tersely, pointedly, and 
unmistakeably than any poor penny-a-liner would 
dare. Nor does Hearsay invariably make the most 
of things unfavourable. To him a bad job is a bad 

job, or even " a bad job ; " and he declines to 

believe, still less to urge, that there is a "best" side to 
it at all. Otherwise he might have qualified his con- 
demnation of Monday, with a saving clause to the 
effect that plenty of foxes were found in eligible 
places, though also too many open holes and too 
little scent. Thus neither Gossington Gorse, Walton 
Thorns, nor Lord Aylesford's covert gave them the 
required and anticipated run. 

Nor was Wednesday, January 30th, with the 
Belvoir at Waltham — though to all appearance a 
superb hunting day — to be included in Fortune's roll 
of memorable dates. To-day the foxes, rather than 
the scent, incurred Hearsay's meed of blame — and he 
even infers that he came home earlier than he might 
have done, through giddiness consequent on repeated 



HEARSAY. 



183 



short rings over the same country. It appears that 
the scene of the day's operations lay entirely in the 
Melton district — commencing with a fox from Mr. 
Burbage's covert. Him they ran to Stapleford, along 
a route coincident and interwoven with that of rail- 
way and river. The latter was brimful ; and was in- 



■• y$ """ Am- ■ ^?wmm% -*-* •* ,x 3[? ' 




: FORTHWITH SWAM BACK AGAIN TO HIS MASTER 



I » 



strumental in supplying the leading episode of the 
trip. Between the water and the railway runs a 
wedge of flat meadow-land, as far as the Brentingby 
Crossing ; and along this peninsula rode the bruisers 
of the hunt — taking all they could in their stride. 
At length they came to timber unjumpable, even to 
their liberal ideas ; so one of their number jumped 
down to attack the barricade on foot — leaving his 



1 84 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

horse to take care of himself. This the noble animal 
promptly proceeded to do, by trotting down to the 
river bank, and coolly swimming across to join the 
hounds on his own account. But no sooner had he 
reached the opposite side than, upon a friendly horse- 
man riding up to catch him, he kicked his heels into 
the air, whinnied playfully, and forthwith swam back 
again to his master ! (As to this little anecdote, I 
carefully put Hearsay on his oath, before venturing 
to pass it on to my readers.) The Broom Covert and 
thereabouts, and round-and-about, 'twixt Waltham 
Stonesby and Freeby — embodies the area, upon 
which Gillard and the Duke's pack worked hard and 
untiringly, killed a fox, and run others throughout 
the afternoon. 



CHAPTER XVII. 

THE JOHN O' GAUNT GALLOP. 

SS'^HAT gallop from John o' Gaunt of Friday, 
©'fjrM§ February 1st, would seem to have rivalled 
anything in the great score of the Quorn, for 
Mr. Coupland's marvellous — but alas, final — season. 
At the meet at Quenby that morning it was made 
known that the Master who has ruled our country so 
deftly, and given us an unbroken succession of sport 
for fourteen years, had determined on resigning office. 
Severely as the loss will be felt, the country cannot 
look upon it as unexpected ; for the last two or three 
years of his Mastership have been continued in 
deference to the strong feeling of the country rather 
than in obedience to his own wish and convenience. 
But no one else seemed to be forthcoming who could 
aptly handle the reins ; and so, rather than the Hunt 
should suffer, Mr. Coupland consented to retain them. 
The Quorn country is one that, apart from all 
monetary considerations (which, perhaps, have had 
their weight here as everywhere else), demands a 
ruler possessed of more than an ordinary share of 



1 86 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

tact, business-like habits, and a knowledge of men. 
Its visitors give little trouble of themselves — or at 
all events only such trouble as an active Hon. Sec. is 
competent to deal with. The visitors indeed find 
most of the sinews of war. Did they not do so, it is 
only fair to assert that their presence would possess 
comparatively few compensating advantages, to set 
against the difficulties brought about by their 
numbers — in a country by no means best suited to 
the infliction of an immense field of horsemen. But 
— without raking up a catalogue of stumbling-blocks 
over which an inconsiderate and thoughtless Master 
of Hounds might find himself tripping at any step — 
it is sufficient to point out that his dynasty, to be 
stable and lasting, must be founded on an attention 
to men and detail that the many who regard the 
existence of an M.F.H. as a quiet and comfortable 
autocracy would never imagine. There is no harder- 
worked, or more sorely-tried, official in the kingdom 
than the Master of a subscription pack in a popular 
country. From this work and these trials Mr. 
Coupland has never shrunk, but has combated them 
with a success so widely known that encomium at 
my hands would be only impertinence — but for which 
every member of the Quorn Hunt gladly confesses to 
deep and lasting gratitude. 

Reader ! (I am now addressing only the reader at 
a distance.) How gladly would you, and I, have 



THE JOHN O' GAUNT GALLOP. 1 87 

seen that gallop on Friday, have been lifted in the 
whirl of its quick delight out of the day-to-day 
stolidness of mere being, have breathed its ecstasy, 
and shared in its chances. You are perhaps biding 
your time in some far-off land, till your turn comes 
round for pink and pig-skin in the Old Country once 
more. I am near enough to the scene of action to 
hear at once of each stirring event, to learn it from 
still excited lips, even to catch the passing enthu- 
siasm ere the flush is off the cheek or the sparkle has 
left the eye. The spirits must rise, and the heart 
must quicken, to the recital — even though a tinge of 
pain (the dogged refusal of human nature to lay aside 
all self-regret) zvill step in to temper the thrill of 
sympathy. Ah, it must indeed have been a gallant 
burst — a quick straight gallop over wild open country 
— of class enough to make the leading chapter of a 
season, though only a single specimen page in our 
well-filled scrapbook of '83, '84. 

To John o' Gaunt, then, a somewhat disconsolate 
field dragged its way in the early, and showery, after- 
noon of Friday — disconsolate for the news they had 
heard — that the flock was to lose its shepherd — and 
for that they had seen Barkby Holt and various 
minor coverts already drawn dismally blank. A 
third of the blackthorn in John o' Gaunt's dozen 
acres, be it noted, was cut away last spring ; and low 
brushwood just hides the ground, In this barest por- 



1 88 THE BEST SEASON ON' RECORD. 

tion a strong old fox was fast asleep, and nearly lost 
his brush before he could gain his legs. He woke 
with the pack all round him ; almost knocked over a 
hound that was too taken aback to seize him ; 
dashed through the very legs of the huntsman's 
horse ; and well nigh jumped out of his bright red 
skin as the first view holloa of the day was poured 
into his astonished ears. With the demon-voice 
ringing through and through his distracted head, he 
stopped not for trick nor thought nor parley ; but 
bundled through the covert, out at the bottom, and 
away up the green slope as if the de — no, Firr and 
all his angels were after him. And so they were, 
close and sharp and cheerily — as he rose the green- 
sward beside the railway, and made his way towards 
Tilton Station (as a fortnight before). The field of 
even more than ordinary Friday strength, trooped 
down the ride and out through the ample gateway — 
as if one and all would be with the hounds, happen 
what might. And yet — and yet — again the old story 
— another mile found considerably less than a dozen 
near hounds, while the ruck toiled on — happy enough 
in most instances perhaps but not ivith hounds. Ill 
luck shut off a strong and capable section : the pace 
choked off a large number more — and many of the 
rest got in each other's way. The firstnamed, as I 
learned, were victimised thus — Hounds, be it remem- 
bered, kept the railwayembankment just on their 



THE JOHN O' GAUNT GALLOP. 



I89 



left. The two first fences (the one a thorn-blocked 
gateway, the other a hole in a high bullfinch — the 
very desiderata for clubbing a mass of horsemen) 
brought them to a crossroad that runs from Tilton 
village under the railway to Marfield. Over this 
road a white gate led up the second rise ; while a 




'DASHED THROUGH THE VERY LEGS OF THE HUNTSMAN'S HORSE. 



larch spinney, close beside it, for a moment clouded 
the movements of the pack from the straining eyes of 
the men behind. Thus some of the latter took the 
right of the plantation (towards the Halstead farm), 
under the impression that hounds were bending that 
way — and in the next field found an impassable gulf, 
completely cutting them off from the chase and from 
hope. A quarter of a mile round put them half a 



190 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORb. 

mile behind — and not a yard of it could they evef 
recover. The leaders meantime had swung across 
the railway with the pack (whether over a bridge, or 
under an arch, I can induce none I have seen to 
recall positively from their misty, hurried, recollec- 
tion) ; made good the Marfield brook, by ford or 
easy-railed jump ; and embarked on as wet and wild 
a stretch of old grass as the country holds. With a 
piping scent hounds were running as close as they 
could pack. Each enclosure measures half-a-hundred 
acres ; the fences are laid and level — good at one 
place as at another — and the vanguard rode almost 
abreast. Lord Charles Beresford, Mr. Bunbury, Mr. 
A. Brocklehurst, Capts. Ashton, Molyneux and 
Smith, Count Kaunitz, with Mr. Gosling and Capt. 
Candy — I cannot learn that there were more than 
one or two others, till, after a long interval, a second 
and stronger division rode hard in their wake. (Firr, 
I need scarcely add, was in his proper and accus- 
tomed position.) But lookers-on, who proverbially — 
and, in foxhunting at least, veritably — see much of 
the game, declare that after this second batch of 
twenty or so, came another wide interval, and then a 
prolonged stream of red and black dots covering at 
one time quite three miles of undulating pasturage. 
This authority might have told me more of what 
went on, amid the moving mass of which he formed a 
late but lusty atom* — had not his attention been dis- 



THE JOHN O GAUNT GALLOP. 



191 



tractcd by an incident that startled and terrified him 
not a little. So deep and dirty was the ground after 
the showers of the day and the storms of the week, 
that to jump out of a furrow was a labour, to jump 
into one was a risk — enhanced by the pace and aug- 




: HERE ! TAKE MY FLASK ! ! ' 



mented by the deep plunge of those who had passed 
before. Landing into a quagmire, my atom extri- 
cated himself, with difficulty and a prolonged 
flounder ; and rode in jubilaunce up the mead. But 
a crash and a dull flop caught his ear ; and, ever 
ready to render help to a comrade in distress, he 
turned round in his saddle, — to behold a citizen of 



1 92 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

Leicester and his trusty steed rolling over and over 
each other in the deep brown mud. All right ! The 
man was up again, and so was the horse ; philan- 
thropy might be cast to the winds ; and our friend 
sped on, with all the haste that a full-blown hunter, 
aided by a long pair of spurs but incommoded by 
sixteen stone of exacting horsemanship, could com- 
mand. But, casting one glance more over his 
shoulder, the Levite was in the instant again the 
good Samaritan. Round he came in a jififey ; and 
galloped back to where the fallen one was now to be 
seen writhing in apparent agony on the turf, his steed 
with dragging reins cropping the grass by his side. 
" Here ! Take my flask ! ! " shouted the Samaritan, 
flinging himself from his saddle, and unsheathing a 
glass receptacle holding at least a very imperial pint. 
" For Heaven's sake, man, speak ! Are you badly 
hurt ? " And with a merry smile the object of his 
solicitude spoke. " Hurt ? no, thanks, not at all. 
I'm only rubbing the rough edge of the dirt off my 
back ! But I think I'll take a drink." So charity 
suffered with becoming meekness the loss of his place 
in the run, besides half the contents of his flask. 

All this time hounds had been streaming away, at 
first with their heads towards the distant height of 
Burrough Hill, then with a bend to the right (which 
proved, I am told, of grateful assistance to more than 
one of the party struggling against the pace) as if for 



THE JOHN O' GAUNT GALLOP. 193 

Owston Village. The brook from Owston to Tvvyford 
was struck at some happy point where it was anything 
but formidable, scarcely even recognisable. Every 
rider, light or heavy, had to drive his utmost down 
each gentle declivity ; and the latter aver hounds 
helped them not a little, by making the pace hottest 
down the hills and easing it ever so little on the brow 
of each ascent. It would seem as if their fox, striving 
his utmost to make up the wind for the Cottesmore 
woodlands, was driven downward and on till he had 
no point in the open country before him. Now he 
passed the brick kilns, midway between the villages 
of Somerby and Owston ; now he reached the back 
of Somerby ; and now he found his first momentary 
breathing time — while the fortunate few made the 
most of the check, to turn to the wind, to pat their 
lathering steeds on the neck (and each other, figura- 
tively, on the back), to count their numbers, and 
consult their watches. I did not ask what they said, 
or even what they thought. I know the one (so do 
you ; for we too have perhaps found ourselves in 
similar happy case) ; and I could guess the other — 
the natural outcome of " Five and twenty minutes, my 
boy, seven of us there, and not another soul in sight ! 
I wouldn't take five hundred, no, not a thousand, for 
the old horse." With a burst of kindly sympathy he 
added, " How you'd have enjoyed it, old friend !" or I 
must have bade him leave a fool to himself, and had 



194 THE BE «T SEASON ON RECORD. 

the rest another day (forgetting in weakness and 
longing that 30 to 1 had been the least odds against 
each successful competitor). Not that there was the 
glow and the go in the rest of his narrative. They 
had come a four mile point already ; and for another 
mile went heartily. But a palpable change of scent 
was tantamount to a probable change of foxes, on 
the big heavy ploughs or at the strip of plantation 
at the back of Pickwell. They hunted on to Whis- 
sendine, to complete their seven miles ; but the vigour 
of the chase was never renewed, and the run ended 
by slow degrees. But that first spin was Leicester- 
shire, every inch of it. 



CHAPTER XVIII. 

HARDER AND HARDER. 

§N East wind, I fancy, loses little of its acerbity 
before penetrating to the Midlands, finds a 
weak place in as many human frames here, 
as on more dusty soils, shrivels our faculties and con- 
tracts our capacity for enjoyment quite as readily as 
in other hunting fields. Often, however, it brings 
with it a counteracting influence in the warming 
exhilarating presence of a tearing scent that allows 
hounds to run breast high over parched meadows or 
even crusted fallows. Then we forget the covert side 
misery, the insanity which bade us jump into spring 
clothing before the dog days, and the flight of fashion 
which induced us to give credence to the new theory 
that cords are preferable to buckskin. But an east 
wind brought no recompense with it towards the 
close of last week. On Friday (February 15th) with 
the Quorn we were kept moving all day ; so actually 
suffered little at its hands, though we received but 
scanty benefits. After a cold but pretty meet at 
Gaddesby Hall, we found a heavy sign of early spring 
at Cream Gorse ; and, leaving her with a blessing on 

o 2 



I96 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

the goddess Lucina, who would seem to cast an 
impervious mantle round Madame Reynard in her 
sorest need, we found Ashby Pastures forsaken for a 
general gathering of the race at Thorpe Trussels 
adjacent. Three fields in pursuit of one of these 
foxes made it quite patent that a burning scent was 
not to be long to-day ; three more fields certified to a 
fox to ground. Bolted him, ran and hunted him for 
an hour and a half, aye and hunted him to death close 
to where he was found. To make a story of it, how- 
ever, could only be done at fer line— a scale which is 
neither in keeping with mine Editor's requirements nor 
with material of five days a week. I might, even with 
my matter of fact pen, draw ghastly pictures of what 
we saw and how we were terrified — now, and again, 
and time after time in that quiet cruise round Great 
Dalby. The gallant, the giddy, the fierce and the 
fair — for bravery, rashness, temerity, or timidity — 
none seemed exempt from peril and catastrophe. 
And we went home sorely puzzled in our minds as to 
whether or no the game of foxhunting was, after all, 
too dangerous — if not for our unworthy selves, at least 
for our best belongings. But such gruesome inci- 
dents are better forgotten than perpetuated. They 
lacked even a comic side — such as cannot but belonsr 
to even our dearest friend's dive into a dirty duck- 
pond — a trait of the plunger that has long remained 
the only link between him and Her Gracious 



iiARDfcR AND HARDER. 1 97 

Majesty's mounted musketeers. But there is a cer- 
tain monotony even in the routine of going out 
hunting every day in rude health and returning home 
unscathed — through which there have been many 
recent, and more or less successful, efforts to break. 
Sunday, however, has generally been recognised as an 
off day and as more in keeping with renovation after 
damage than as fitting occasion for fresh hurt. So, 
as a matter of custom and fact, a saddle is very 
seldom ordered out of Melton on that day ; and 
wheels become the more ordinary and safer medium 
of quiet exercise. It is by no means against the 
code, though, to try a new one between the shafts on 
the day of rest — and, moreover, it has lately become 
quite an approved practice to put a half-broken-down 
favourite into harness and " drive him sound." The 
Marquis was taking his recreation in this wise a few 
days ago ; and old Lottery apparently took very 
kindly to the job — stepping along as sedately as if 
his field of vision had all his life been limited by a 
pair of blinkers. All went well till he arrived at the 
gate of the residence at which the noble coachman 
proposed to lunch, when Lottery was pulled up short 
to allow of John jumping down. But the gate opened 
towards him, the unaccustomed bearing rein had 
already chafed Lottery's mouth and temper, and the 
old horse began impatiently to sidle and back. The 
buggy in a moment hung on the very verge of the 



I98 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

ditch, causing the affrighted owner to give a sharp 
tug to one rein and a smart cut to Lottery's back. 
This summary mode of proceeding brought the old 
horse exactly opposite the side fence, and to his 
understanding could mean but one thing. Accord- 
ingly, he took the office at once — the bit and the 
hated bearing rein between his teeth, and the fence 
in his stride — landing himself, the gig, and the gallant 
marquis all into the next field in undisturbed safety, 
though the binders were fully four feet high, and the 
ditch beyond was quite wide enough to satisfy the 
G. N. H. Committee ! The feat has not only created 
its little sensation within and without the walls of 
Melton ; but has stimulated the young blood of the 
city to a new excitement. The annual Plunt Steeple- 
chases had all but been abandoned. Now a fresh 
course has been chosen and approved, the meeting is 
to come off in April, and a chariot-race over three 
miles of fair hunting country will form the not least 
exciting event on the card. 

Monday, February 19th, brought the Quorn back 
to what has become quite their normal average— # 
great day's sport. The ten flying minutes in the Vale, 
with a fox just bolted from a drain, need scarcely be 
counted in the record of the day. But the next per- 
formance — another extremely fine gallop from Welby 
Fishpond — was of very different mark. Let me pre- 
face that the east wind was cold as ever, but far 



HARDER AND HARDER. 



199 



less boisterous ; the sun shone brightly, and the glass 
rose rapidly. Wind and crowd alike prevented their 
fox from taking the usual line hence into the Belvoir 
country ; so now he set off into the heart of the grass 
that, till the railway came to disfigure it, Ouornites 




HE TOOK THE OFFICE AT ONCE. 



held to be the best of their ground north of the 
Wreake. There used to be little or nothing to stop 
us between Welby Fishpond and Lord Aylesford's 
Gorse. Now those beautiful pastures of Saxelby have 
a railway cutting through their midst — and even the 
two or three bold spirits who jumped into it were fain 
to be content with riding down it to the station 
crossing. But, for all this, a bright sharp twenty 



200 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

minutes took us over the grass to Lord Aylesford's 
and over one long plough, or one clamber round, to 
Schoby Scoles. Three, if not four, difficult " bottoms" 
there were on the way — but under good leadership 
they were all waded or scrambled over by even the 
most timid of us. A worse difficulty than any one of 
these gullies was in waiting immediately hounds took 
up the running again beyond Schoby Scoles. A gate, 
with half its topbars broken off, became a very Gordian 
knot which refused to be cut, and drew the crowd into 
its own entanglement. Half a minute thus wasted 
may involve the loss of almost any quick gallop. 
How long this scene of confusion now lasted it would 
be impossible for me to say — but hounds were two 
fields away before the pent torrent broke forth, and 
nothing but a second dry fallow saved the run to 
many an almost broken-hearted pursuer. On regain- 
ing the grass by Ragdale village, this bold good fox 
turned his head abruptly up the wind ; and held it so 
for a sheer five miles, with hounds hard at him all 
the way. Leaving Hoby behind him, he chose the 
strongest of lines above Ashfordby village, where the 
fences arc so thick and unbroken that even with a 
successful pioneer there is scarcely room for half a 
dozen to ride to hounds. The pioneer in this instance 
was Mr. Leatham on his bold and untiring grey ; and 
as the chase moved hotly on, his string of followers 
grew thinner and more prolonged. Neither a division 



HARDER AND HARDER. 201 

of lines near the village of Ashfordby, nor a down 
wind and parallel road, proved of service to those who 
by the pace or the intricacy of the country once found 
themselves choked off: and it was only after the hunt- 
boundary had been crossed, the hamlet of Welby 
repassed, and the Duke's covert of Old Hills reached, 
that the long train of horsemen could once more close 
up. And this just an hour from the find ! Of course 
a change of foxes must have occurred on the way — 
though many an old traveller is nearly as strong as a 
foxhound in mid-February. To make matters worse, 
and prevent a well earned finish, two or three fresh 
foxes were at once a foot at Old Hills ; and so, though 
Firr worked back to Welby Fishpond after another 
twenty minutes' hunting, it soon became evident that 
his run fox had shifted his burden on to other 
shoulders, and the chase was given up. 



CHAPTER XIX. 



OLD FRIENDS. 




IL HE Quorn were busy and merry with two old 
friends on Friday, Feb. 22 — doing justice to each 
without exacting the extreme penalty from either. 
Three weeks ago (you who do me the honour of 
skimming my jottings may remember) I wrote from 
the mouth of Hearsay of that gallant gallop from 
John o' Gaunt. Now I can tell you how it was in 



OLD FRIENDS. 203 

part reproduced on Friday ; and if the sweet morsel 
now tasted was a fair sample of the former feast, 
there needed nothing more to realise the sterling 
truth of Hearsay's glowing terms. 

Baggrave had been the meet, on a bright and 
rather blustering morning. A passing storm drove 
our coat collars up as, soon after midday we neared 
John o' Gaunt ; and at once we flew to condemning 
weather and prospects of scent as if all hope had been 
washed away. And yet men seemed to know 
exactly what was before them. No sooner were they 
within a field of the covert than there ensued a 
general scuttle to the middle ride; while the pack 
was taken as usual to draw from the Tilton end of 
the staunch little covert. Not two minutes were we 
kept in doubt. The hero was at home ; and lively 
enough this time, he darted across the ride before 
our faces — incurring immediately afterwards the 
nearest possible chances of loosing the white-tipped 
brush he flourished so defiantly. First he ran his head 
right against the whip at the bottom corner ; then 
his second effort was met by a tumultuous yell from 
a signal box full of pointsmen — these gallery gods 
being perched up aloft so as almost to overhang the 
covert. But all idea of the incompatibility of 
railways with fox-hunting has long since passed 
away from us. We accept their presence under 
helpless protest — but still we hunt, and still we find 



204 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

room to ride. To see their railway tickets inscribed 
" Melton to Leicester via John o' Gawit " still brings 
a groan from sportsmen of anything like mature age 
■ — but, happily, one seldom hears them speak of 
shifting their quarters for lack of room to move. 

The huntsman's deep-voiced appeal — mandatory 
indeed rather than supplicatory — awed into silence 
these noisy cherubs ; the almost quivering horse- 
men huddled in hushed anxiety within the covert ; 
reynard slipped through his clamorous foes, and 
quickly made another bold bid for safety. This time 
he was half-way up the first narrow grass field, ere 
the voice he must, have remembered so well struck 
appallingly into his ears ; followed by scream after 
scream that he may have deemed only the outcry of a 
railway engine, but which were bringing six-and- 
thirty fierce fleet ladies hot upon his track. How they 
scrambled, dodged, and darted out of covert — past a 
crowd that could hardly contain itself to wait their 
coming, so keenly did the memory of the previous 
chance, the previous success, or the previous dis- 
appointment assert itself. Now they are away — and 
in a moment clear of us all. Now you may cut and 
thrust, gallop and go, to your heart's content — to a 
burning scent and to as fast a pack as ever beat 
horses. The same fox, no one doubts ; the same 
line, everyone prays. Now for putting old Hearsay 
to the test — and, if he told us a cracker, to jump on 



OLD FRIENDS. 205 

his back. A neat new cut-and-laid still bears the 
marks of where he told us five men rolled through 
its thorn- covered ditch abreast. That much was true, 
at all events, for here's a clean gap, never left by 
hedgecutter, for us to shoot in our stride. Ah, they 
and turning for Pilton and its woods, and our conjured 
gallop will, after all, be a very myth. No, forrard 
they are — breasting the hillside a field before us. 
Here's the open cross-road of which we had been told; 
here's the white gate staring us in the face ; and 
here's the little black spinney that last time split the 
lucky and the luckless. Good fellow, kind man, swing 
it cleverly and swing it wide! And innocently, scan- 
dalously, half a dozen of your comrades will crowd 
you out — less in malice, than in wild and wicked 
thoughtlessness. A bullock track bids them and the 
sufferer walk placidly through the side fence; and 
then the rush again spreads hurriedly. The old 
chestnut Akbar* proclaims all his ancient dash as he 
rushes the tall forbidding bullfinch on the brow ; while 
we of milder metal slink through a gate beside. Halloa, 
Mynheer Hearsay! Here's your choked gateway — 
thorns, sheep tray, and a couple of ashrails to form 
" two on top." Good take-off, and good landing — 
the pack swinging across the front, and the railway 
bridge, about which you jumbled your evidence so 

* Akbar, for some seasons past the property of Capt. Brocklehurst, 
formerly belonged to Sir Beaumont Dixie, 



206 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

culpably, now again bearing hounds and field as 
through a floodgate to the open pasture lands of 
Owston and Sowerby. There he goes ! up the very next 
slope, with his head for Burrough, the pack running 
as if they too could see him — and we riding in all 
excitement of a gallop in full swing. Field after field 
brings us opposite Hearsay's gaps ; and we bless 
those that went before that they made a strong 
country so easy. But it must have been since then 
that the heap of stones was shot down exactly where 
we must land into the Tilton and Burrough road ? 
Twenty sets of hoofs in turn drop into it, with a 
clatter that turns each man in his saddle to learn 
what may have happened to the next comer. And 
you said not a word, Mr. Hearsay, of this villainous 
ant-hilly and rush-covered field, over which twenty 
men are now spurring as fearlessly as if it were level 
and fair as a polo ground. Crash goes the timber 
out of it, with a treble but almost simultaneous report. 
Owston village is on their right ; Somerby and miles 
off well-fenced prairie ridges (if you will grant the 
two apparently opposite adjectives) in front. 
Hounds, as before, are flying like pigeons ; none 
of these simple old hedges ought to stop us ; a dozen 
good fellows give us a ready and clever lead ; and 
Hearsay swore there was never a brook in the line. 
Confound you, sir, what then do you call this ? 
Catgh my horse and be- friend me ; cr, if you 



OLD FRIENDS. 



207 



will, pull out your sketch book and get out of Capt. 
John Brocklehurst's way ! Now pencil in Mr. 
Leatham and his Monday's grey hitting off a better 
spot on the right, the huntsman on his big black 
readily accepting the office, Lord Manners, Mr. 













HITTING OFF A BETTER BTOT ON THE RIGHT. 



Forester, Colonel Pole Carcw, Capts. Ashton, Moly- 
neux, and Smith all in a cluster at their heels, and 
Mr. A. Brocklehurst near the centre of the line 
getting the cleanest place of all, where the nearer 
bank as a post-and-rail and the farther is less 
rugged and steep than elsewhere. This done, get 
forrard for Somerby Spire ; and point out to me 
where on the former occasion you say you came to 



203 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

your first brief check. Here they are, at fault again ! 
The man with the inevitable sheepdog says, as usual, 
" He's just afore 'em ; " and adds as he catches up his 
panting colley, " I'd hard work to stop my old bitch 
from running him." Only a quarter of an hour ; but 
already is a check verily needed — for has it not been 
a fast-run race every yard of the way ? A few- 
seconds' rest will suffice us ; and the struggle will 
commence again. Alas, no ! An open drain 
explains the sudden check ; and our brief bright 
scurry is at an end. 

Later in the day let me take you on to the im- 
mortal Coplow, and presume that, having seen the 
gorse on its side drawn blank, you have dawdled past 
the House in place of accompanying the hounds over 
the summit. Possibly, in the weakness of a nature to 
which the restricting hand of gout (the most impartial 
as he is the most severe of whippers-in) has as yet 
scarcely appealed, you may have found yourself 
blocked for one second by the sherry-tray that "stops 
the way" as if brought by magic. Of a sudden there 
is a murmur, breaking into a shout " They're away ! " 
Away ! Where ? They may have left in any direc- 
tion for aught we can learn from here. And the 
party scattered madly, as sheep from a dog in their 
midst. No one knows whither to ride ; but 'tis no 
use loitering to lament ! We remember, in the 
sudden instinct of desperation, that twice previously 



OLD FRIENDS. 20O, 

in this season from the Coplow, the rough southern 
side, towards Billesdon, has been the direction ; and 
at once we dive and twist through the trees and 
shrubs to the lower handgate. By all that is blessed 
and unexpected, there are the hounds, skimming the 
plough as twice before for the first steep brow. 
Three men only are near them, as we make out in 
our struggle through the deep clay — and these are 
Mr. C. Martin, Mr. H. Praed, and Downs. Over the 
edge of the brow hounds have disappeared from 
sight ; and only a hurried scramble through two more 
hillside fences reveals them streaming away in a deep 
gully below. Firr dips at once into the steep valley 
in pursuit — the roan sinking and rising over hill and 
dale till in the distance he reminds one of a terrier 
going in and out of deep ridge-and-furrow. Mr. 
Charles Fitzwilliam is his only close companion ; 
until the chase turns upwards towards Tilton Wood, 
and in ten minutes those who have struck the cross 
lane from Lord Moreton's covert become the "top o' 
the hunt." Lord Lonsdale's fox of a week ago is 
before them again this afternoon. Second editions 
are the order of the day : and, both forenoon and 
evening, history repeats itself right pleasantly. As 
with Lord Lonsdale,* a momentary check occurs 
directly Tilton Wood comes in sight ; and hounds 

* Lord Lonsdale had an invitation-day with his pack in the Quorn 
country the previous week. 



210 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

race off for the wood more quickly than ever. To the 
one who plumbed the depth of the well-edged water- 
course that eventually becomes the Tilton Bottom, 
belonged all the pride of place till the covert was 
reached. 

But here — at a little blind fence close to the wood 
— Firr met with a fall that, while costing him dear in 
pain and disappointment, is likely to involve quite an 
equal cost upon his Master and field in the loss of his 
invaluable services for at least several days. A rick 
to his back (his weak point for years) made it neces- 
sary for him to return home on wheels ; and his return 
to work remains still in the future. If sympathy 
would cure, a thousand well-wishers should help him 
to the saddle again. The run in question went on, 
even prettily, for a long while after — the Master 
giving the pack every chance of killing their fox. 
And their fox was right among them in Launde 
Wood — but a fresh one tempted them on, to complete 
an eight-mile point near Prior's Coppice. 

Ash Wednesday, 1884. 

That the Belvoir should have signalised Ash 
Wednesday with a gallop is less remarkable than had 
they failed to do so. That the custom was carried 
out, the proverb fulfilled, and the anniversary duly 
honoured, was only in keeping with what we had all 
been taught to expect and what so many had 



OLD FRIENDS. 211 

journeyed far to see. From Northamptonshire, 
Lincolnshire, Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire, Buck- 
inghamshire, even from Yorkshire, they had come to 
trip it in Leicestershire, as soon as the church bells 
released them and played them to a midday meet. 
Of whom the array of strangers may have consisted it 
would be impossible for an individual to ascertain or 
note. Our hunting field does not, unfortunately, 
endow even the elder boys with the privilege of 
accosting newcomers with "What is your name, Sir?" 
— and the latter were to-day far too numerous and far 
too widely gathered to admit of acquiring the necessary 
information at one's elbow. As with learning the 
hounds of a pack, it was easy enough to mark the 
individual, but a hundred to one that the person who 
could identify him was not within whisper-shot. We 
are all curious about our fellowmen ; and the keeper 
of the log book who complains that his entry for the 
day is incomplete is by no means the only murmurer 
on such occasions. Year after year though, I notice 
the Belvoir Ash Wednesday becomes a more widely 
attractive festival — and so, no doubt, it will continue 
to grow until the Duke's pack loses its beauty and 
power, or Gillard his skill in kennel and his fortune in 
the field. The following few names will serve to 
illustrate, but by no means to complete, the goodly 
company. Mr. and Mrs. C. Chaplin, Mr. and Mrs. F. 
Sloane-Stanley, Mrs. G Paget, Mrs. Candy, Mr. and 

1* 2 



212 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

Miss Fenwick, Miss Wilson, Duke of Portland, Count 
Larische, Count Caunitz, Colonel Fryer, Colonel 
Pole-Carew, Major Starkey, Major Stirling, Major 
Paynter, Captains Amcotts, Ashton, Blair, Brockle- 
hurst, Goodchild, Hill-Trevor, King, Middleton, Rid- 
del], Smith, Tennent, Wickham, M. Deschamps, M. 
Koy, Messrs. Behrens, Beaumont, A. Brocklehurst, C. 
and J. Brown, Burdett-Coutts, Crawley, Custance, 
Drummond, Duncan, Fisher, Forester, Goodman, F 
Gosling, Hanbury, Hume, Leatham, Osborne, S. 
Paget, Parker, Peake, Pennington, Pryor, Rose, 
Shoolbred, Williamson Smith (huntsman to Mr. G. 
Lane Fox), with very many others, whose names I 
either did not know or that do not occur to me at 
the moment of writing. 

The men from other countries had, of course, come 
to Croxton Park to make, or renew, acquaintance 
with the fair pastures of vaunted Leicestershire — and 
with this result, that in a half-hour's run from Sprox- 
ton Thorns they were scarcely two minutes out of 
plough. Having thus satisfied themselves of the 
nakedness of the land, they were in a mood to accept 
with gratitude any small modicum of sport that so 
inferior a county might be able to afford them before 
nightfall. So far they had gathered themselves for 
an ef.b:t as unnecessary and out of place as that of a 
s'.rong man blowing soap bubbles. They had already 
witnessed the natives ride over a hound or two in the 



OLD FRIENDS. 2!3 

open, and jump on each other more freely than in 
any country on this side the channel. Of all this 
they made a quiet note, either with a view to 
retailing in full at to-morrow's covertside at home, or 
perhaps with the idea, should occasion offer, of for 
once indulging themselves also in the obvious license, 
as the afternoon went forward. So they followed on 
to Coston Covert, again to gaze on a sea of plough 
all round them, and to find the habitues of the scene 
at once lighting up a second cigar, to consume the 
long period of waiting evidently accepted as 
customary. That a horn sounded on the second up 
the wind (S.E., the best, perhaps, of all directions) 
seemed to take natives and strangers alike by 
surprise. But the fox had found himself; the big 
doghounds were scattered over the covert, and there 
was time enough for everyone to be at the starting- 
point before the pack were on his line. (The pack, 
did I say ? No, a moiety at the most. The gallop 
was half over ere the rampant phalanx opened suffi- 
ciently to let the others up.) But with such a scent, 
wafted down the breeze in their faces, I question if the 
tailhounds could ever have caught the body — till the 
wire traps to which we shall presently come had en- 
closed one and all of the hindering horsemen — had the 
field waited yet another three minutes, which in com- 
mon justice to them, it is only fair to add, they had not 
the slightest intention of doing. A stalwart bullfinch 



214 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

checked wild ardour for a moment, till a well-known 
and too-often-quoted friend swept the strong rails 
from the chief opening, as radically as a cowcatcher 
would lift a few sticks from an engine's path. Over 
three rough pastures then raced the crowd — the deep- 
sticky furrows searching out the power of their 
mounts, and a fourth field a very nest of pitfalls with 
its new made drains and its half-visible watercourses. 
Thus for the village of Wymondham — with grief, 
hurry, and happiness in their due proportions by the 
way. Suddenly it became necessary — at least so 
thought all the leading competitors — to jump into a 
deep narrow lane which hounds had at least 
threatened to cross. So in they jumped ; till the 
lane would hold no more, and the pressure became so 
dense that they could neither open the gate out, nor 
rein back to release themselves from the ad de sac. 
But they did get out at last ; and scurried on above 
Wymondham, thinking to ride for Garthorpe or 
Freeby, and with the greater part of the pack by this 
time fairly free to hunt its fox in peace. WIRE, was 
the cry above the village ; WIRE was the same 
accursed sound, and sight, beyond. (Is there no man 
of influence and good-feeling in the parish of 
Wymondham— or are they all cold-blooded and 
blood-thirsty ? ) Our fox was plainly in view as we 
approached the first murderous strand ; and he had 
gained little on the hounds when we were penned ly 



OLD FRIENDS. 21 5 

the second snare. Two or three forward riders were 
all but caught by the cruel wire ; some few others 
knew of, and avoided, its propinquity ; and Mr. Alec 
Goodman in particular made an excellent cut, by 
dashing through the village and hitting a ford in the 
brook below. The body of others, when extricated, 
found their path once more barred by wire along the 
water. Rounding this by a right detour, they 
squeezed through a bullfinch and forded the stream — 
then sat down to ride for the fairest and quickest ten 
minutes of the gallop. This brought them to Teigh, 
to the very same farm whereat the Quorn killed their 
fox last Kirby-Gate-Day. Down the hillside at this 
moment, and across the right front, came Mr. Good- 
man, hat in hand as he rode at the draggled brush of 
the beaten fox— one hound racing to the view, the 
others straining to the warm scent. By the side of 
the railway, and past Whissendine station, went the 
fray — hounds somewhat intermingled with, and cut 
off by, the horsemen, but the head of the pack 
chasing their fox hotly into Wymondham Roughs. 
With flagging horses men were glad enough to make 
use of gates and ford, and gallop round to the Staple- 
ford crossing. No, he was not over the railway — 
declared gatekeepers and platelayers; and half the 
hounds were already through the covert, their heads 
up in puzzled inquiry. TallyJio ! ! Tallyho ! came 
Gillard's joyful scream, as he spied his game prone in 



2l6 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

a hedgerow, 'twixt us and the covert. Tallyho ! and 
in another moment the big dogs had rent and torn 
him into many a fragment in mid-field. Thirty- 
minutes without a check ! — tiventy seven say some. 
But the margin was too narrow to nurse dispute, and 
the fun too good to admit of cavil. Another Ash 
Wednesday is scored to the Belvoir ; another Ash 
Wednesday we owe to our Duke. 




CHAPTER XX. 

THE CURATE IN SPRING. 

5 RIDAY the 29th of February may of course be 
looked upon as a Leap Year gift, an extra 
day to our life and to the current season. In 
traditional fancy we connect Leap Year with the 
upsetting in sundry ways of the relations of the sexes. 
In rumour and fact we even hear of such topsy-turvey 
celebrations as Leap Year Balls, whereat the timid 
male has to wait his turn to be asked to dance, to sit 
out, or to go down to supper. But such frivolous 
subversion of social economies has not yet been 
suggested for the hunting field. The ladies on Leap- 
Friday were very forward, it is true ; but only with the 
welcome prominence that has long proved their 
ability in riding to hounds, and shown that — seat and 
dress being the same — they would ask for no lead, 
require no suggestion, on the part of the rougher sex. 
The matter of seat and saddle would seem to be so 
absolutely fixed by ancient custom (I confess to 
ignorance of any other reason) that it is hopeless to 
expect a revolution in this respect — at least, till the 
word fashion has been altogether expunged from 



2l8 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

woman's dictionary, and she has become a more 
unfettered agent than she probably aspires or cares to 
be. But, granted that she is compelled to adhere for 
life to the cramped and unnatural position invented 
in deference to the overwrought sensitiveness of her 
grandmothers or grandfathers, she is still at liberty — 
indeed, by instances lately so numerous and appalling, 
she is almost forced — to seek some alteration or 
adjustment of habit, that shall give her in some 
measure immunity from needless and peculiar risk. 
Without dwelling at length on a subject that of late 
has become so painfully patent, or discussing details 
with which I have no business to meddle in print, it 
is sufficient to say that, here at all events, the sight of 
ladies hanging head downward from their pommels 
has come to be considered the most prominent evil in 
connection with the hunting field, and a standing 
reproach against the custom and the ingenuity of the 
day. Men of tolerable calibre will stand a number of 
bad falls in their own person, without loss of nerve or 
keenness. But they find that such accidents as are 
now constantly befalling their lady relatives and 
friends upset their equanimity and disturb their 
enjoyment far more than any casualty to themselves. 
Having discovered this, they find the voice of self- 
interest coming into play, and bidding them bestir 
themselves for their own comfort's sake. Accord- 
ingly, there has recently been a great outcry on the 



THE CURATE IN SPRING. 219 

subject of habit-skirts. Lords, masters, husbands, 
and admirers have all been exerting themselves, 
and have had as much to say on the matter as their 
respective positions would allow. The three former — 
at any rate those whose rulership is not merely 
a farcical manner of speech — have gone beyond mere 
protest, and insisted on the adoption of sensible 
means of escape. With the habitmaker — who, after 
all, by his skilful and torturous cutting that envelopes 
each leg and pommel with such marvellous closeness, 
is really the author of half these entanglements — he 
dare not meddle ; for does not the fit and sit of 
a habit constitute one of the great, universal, and 
unavoidable, rivalries of the day ? Now, the feminine 
breeches-and-boots of Anno Domini 1884 are as little 
likely to shock the eye of the chance observer, as the 
mention of them is to bring a blush to the face of the 
fair wearer herself when ordering them. They are 
known to exist, in all propriety as in all necessity — 
and, as far as the requirements of delicacy and 
possibly even of elegance are concerned, might well 
dispense with their dangerous coverings, the cause of 
these accidents. Let this be as it may. The order 
has gone forth ; the method has met with acceptance 
at the hands of matron and maid ; and, please 
Heaven, we shall be frightened no more. Habit- 
skirts are to be fastened loosely at the waist ; and in 
time of extreme danger ladies must be content, not 



220 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

only for their own sakes but for ours, to cast them 
adrift. Smile not, ye ancient satyrs — the loosened 
zone of modern classics will, even to your ribald 
minds, convey nothing to move your mirth. 

Twelve o'clock meets, and an enormous influx of 
strangers, as unmistakeably presage the coming end 
as any less technical symptoms of spring. Could we 
shut our eyes to lambs, primroses, and the rusty 
particolours of our well worn stud — we should still 
fail to attain oblivion of sultry noon-tide at the 
rendezvous, and, in a run, of the crowd of unfamiliar 
forms rendering each line of gaps and gates less our 
own than ever. In the homely isolation of Novem- 
ber we form of ourselves a little multitude. In the 
unrestricted popularity of March our local world 
is almost lost in a swollen stream of visitors. Indi- 
vidually the latter are welcome and charming. 
Collectively they may become — well, too much of 
a q;ood thin^. In Leicestershire it has never been 
the custom to cavil at — still less to resent — the 
presence of strangers. We are not prompted to 
throw the metaphorical " 'arf brick " by riding jealous 
of — or, as the ungracious practice is termed else- 
where, of " riding at " — them : but rather regard their 
coming as a compliment to a country whose 
reputed charms have brought them hither. 

Vicarious a sport as foxhunting must always be, it 
is never more so than in March, when it has to 



THE CURATE IN SPRING. 221 

contend against numberless adverse chances of 
subject and climate. At least every second fox is 
not fit to run — and quite three out of four won't. At 
this time of the year they consider they have other 
occupations, and are apt to decline altogether to 
enter into the fun of the thing. From the experience 
of months that are past, or out of a forethought for 
months to come, they are acquainted with every 
available earth or drain in the neighbourhood — and 
accordingly seldom fail to turn this knowledge to 
account, when called upon for distasteful exertion. 
The coverts, too — especially during a winter as open 
as the one nearly at an end — have been so constantly 
worried that they have lost all attractions for a fox ; 
and, in a March so lamblike as this, a warm furrow, 
or at most a hedgebottom, offers quite as comfort- 
able quarters. Then, except in abnormal and un- 
settled weather, the heat is likely to be too great 
or the cold too severe, the soil too dusty and the turf 
too hard. The very air, redolent of flowers, seems 
repellent to foxhunting. We are easily discouraged 
and readily become slack — and very probably miss 
the sport that comes when least expected. This 
year the foxhunter and the farmer (whose interests 
are in reality indissoluble) are not treated with equal 
indulgence. The latter complains that his land is so 
wet he cannot, as he terms it, " get on it" ; while the 
former, finding it still excellent riding, is apt to 



222 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

imagine that this is the summnm bonum desired by 
all parties, and congratulates himself only too loudly. 
Friday, the 7th instant, illustrated many of the dis- 
advantages and difficulties of March, but a run of the 
highest class was the outcome of Monday, the 10th, 
when the Quorn were at Widmerpool New Inn, 
on the Nottinghamshire border of their country. 
The field consequently was not of the same giant 
proportions as on the previous Friday in their 
Leicester district. Yet in this comparatively wild 
region (may I be permitted so to term it, without 
offence to those whose presence is so powerful in 
mitigating its savagery ?) we are accustomed to go a 
hunting only with a few, and look upon it, indeed, as 
affording the one weekly escape from a crowd. Now 
there must have been a hundred or two to see The 
Curate drawn. The famous covert was silent as the 
grave for a full quarter of an hour or more. Black- 
thorn and gorse alike had apparently been duly 
searched, and searched in vain — when a solitary 
whimper broke the spell, and a ready fox cut short 
suspense. He had evidently matured his plan of 
action beforehand — founding it possibly on the result 
of previous trials. He had no taste for the northern 
plough ; nor, on the other hand, did he intend to run 
his head against the laneful of carriage and foot folk, 
that apparently cut him off from the best of the Vale 
of Belvoir. Setting his head southward, in a direc- 



THE CURATE IN SPRING. 223 

tion that meant nothing definite unless it might be 
Old Dalby Wood, he led us for a mile alongside 
the Melton Railway ; then, turning sharper than at a 
right angle, he twisted over the Widmer-pool-and- 
Broughton road near the latter village — by this 
manoeuvre effectually evading the caravanserai above 
mentioned. The sudden movement had another 
result — disastrous or fortunate as the case might be. 
It entirely readjusted the order of going with a great 
proportion of the riders. Thus they on the right 
flank — whatever their previous position — found them- 
selves at once in the extreme rear ; while few became 
so well placed as those who with an indifferent start 
were thundering up the road. The scent had already 
proved its power ; and hounds were already showing 
that they could glide over this difficult and strongly 
fenced grass-country far more readily than a cum- 
brous crowd of horsemen. Truly it was an excep- 
tional hunting-day — the air clear, sharp, keen and 
quiet, after a night broken by storms of snow and 
rain. The ground was surface-laden with wet ; but 
the storms were all past, the sky wore an even face 
and the glass was rising steadily. 

From the brow crowned by the road, the Vale 
opens downwards in chequered ridges of steep green 
turf, till the eye reaches the lower level, to rest on a 
flat unbroken vista stretching away to the eastern 
horizon. On the right flank, however, and some half 



224 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

dozen miles away, rise the boundary hills of Holwell 
and Clawson, continued in those of Harby and the 
Belvoir Woods. Down these first steep pitches 
hounds were now speeding like seabirds over a storm- 
tossed sea — their white forms now dipping out of 
sight, now rising for some moments, to disappear 
again. And what were most of us doing ? Why, 
taking our turn with too many others — first to plunge 
through the only gap that could help us out of the 
road, then to dribble, perforce, in single file in the 
line of hounds. There was no escape. Each sturdy 
fence presented only one loophole ; this had been 
promptly seized by those in front, and the others had 
nothing for it but to follow in leisurely distraction. 
To make up ground through a field of horsemen is at 
any time an uphill task ; when the country is so 
strong as only to admit of progress in a single string 
it is an absolute impossibility. By which — and what 
has gone before — it will be rightly assumed that the 
man who has to tell the tale was not quite where he 
wished to be. And many better than he (for we are 
not all of us tailors in turn ?) were in similar 
predicament — working as part of a machine, riding as 
men in a dream, ever pushing on and ever hindered, 
with all action trammelled, yet powerless to shake off 
the fetters. Hounds were perhaps but a couple 
of fields before them ; but, shut out of sight by lofty 
hedges, they might as well have been a mile away. 



THE CURATE IX SPRING. 225 

A looker-on no doubt sees much of the game ; 
but what he sees from such a point of view as 
this is calculated neither to edify nor to encourage 
him. Now he has to rein up short, while a friend, 
after taking for quite fifty yards a deliberative 
position on his horse's neck, leaves that to roll rabbit- 
like from furrow to furrow. The loose horse utterly 
declines to be caught — preferring rather to pursue 
the Master with dangerous closeness over the follow- 
ing gap. As, however, he has already flung both his 
patent-safety-stirrups out of their sockets and left 
them a quarter of a mile apart, perhaps he would not 
be of much use to anybody if he could be caught. 
The very next fence affords another excellent proof 
of the value of these inventions, in the stage of 
perfection they have at present attained. Dirt- 
stained and mud-be-smeared, a second comrade rises 
from beyond a hedge, which in due course — i.e., after 
someone has refused, someone else has tumbled 
over, and a third someone has stuck fast in — we hope 
yet to make the means of gaining upon hounds. A 
grin flashes across his plastered face — but it is no 
grin of holy joy, nor even of thankful appreciation 
for the inquiry shouted. It is a grin of savage 
temper, such as we had never thought to see dis- 
figuring those fashionable features. He is not hurt, 
nor for the moment is he suffering for the loss of his 
pride of place — still less for his very funny appear- 

Q 



226 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

ance. But both his — oh, such language ! — stirrups 
are gone, probably buried in the ditch, and for the 
moment he is a dangerous lunatic. Men whose 
years well-nigh double mine tell me that the late 
Lord Forester would not even allow the spring bars 
of his stirrup- sockets to be left down (a precaution 
that I fancy few of our generation tempt Providence 
by neglecting), lest a lost stirrup should result in a 
lost run ! And after this and other recent Sports- 
man's Exhibitions in our immediate locality, I am 
inclined to think that the old lord's practice if reck- 
less was at least reasonable. 

Well, somehow — after passing thus through peril 
and by-play — we reached the lower Vale — hounds 
now some three hundred yards before us, bending 
apparently a trifle to the right, with a dozen red- 
coated riders and as many black in near attendance. 
Happy thought ! the country is now open, and the 
fences apparently fair. Bend to the right too ; cut 
straight to the head, and be at once " at the top o' 
the hunt"! No sooner said than done, by twenty 
eager men. One nice easy jump, two ditto, three 
ditto — one more, and we shall be with them again ! 
Silly of us to have been dispirited so readily ! Oh, 
soul of old Nimrod ! What's this ? The Broughton 
brook — a great hedge-guarded chasm, not to be 
jumped for miles ! Those fellows in front have hit 
the bridge, and given you — I mean us— a slap in the 



THE CURATE IN SPRING. 227 

face that will last us many a day. Now you must 
just gallop back and after them, or make a longer 
circuit yet to a distant ford still more to the right. 
Oh, the fortune of foxhunting ! And yet, even in 
rugged Leicestershire — with its deep watercourses 
and rough bottoms — it is held to be the better rule 
(except of course in " High " Leicestershire proper 
and impracticable) to ignore the country in advance, 
and trust to fox and hounds, that they may lead you 
a rideable line. 

But, at Sheerbrooke's Gorse in the Vale, the pace 
that had been maintained for twenty minutes was 
interrupted long enough for the body of pursuers to 
recover their ground — before the chase went on, 
straight and almost up-wind, to Clawson Thorns. 
The southern edge of the Vale was now gained ; but 
still the hunt pushed forward, reaching Piper Hole 
Gorse (a six mile point) in forty minutes — which we 
consider quite good going in this our country of low 
degree. Here a fresh fox jumped up ; the pack divided 
almost exactly in half, each section running its fox to 
ground — the one a mile or two farther on the Harby 
Hills, the other, after about five-and-forty minutes' 
more hard running, round Clawson, Holwell, &c, at 
Old Hills. The former fox may probably have been 
the original starter from the Curate, for he only 
just carried his brush to ground in time. The latter, 
too, was nearly tired out ; but managed always to 

Q 2 



228 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

keep his distance in front. Altogether, the run was 
undoubtedly great and good. 

I wish, by the way, that Mr. Sturgess could have 
been posted in a certain road not far from Clawson 
Thorns, as the chase swept across in the height of its 
career, and when the pace was thoroughly "beginning 
to tell." Seven couple suddenly glanced over the 
lane, to the astounding delight of a knot of horsemen, 
who had not seen hounds for half an hour till they 
now flashed noisily and unexpectedly upon them. 
So excited was one of these hitherto luckless com- 
petitors, that, jumping to the conclusion his turn 
had come at last, he set his horse at the lofty hedge 
beside him, and bade him carry him to glory. But 
the good steed had not so readily caught the 
enthusiasm; he refused to jump either at the same 
conclusion or at the forbidding bullfinch presented to 
him, and forthwith entombed himself and his 
excitable master in the brambly ditch preceding it. 
At that very moment there dashed into the road, 
in all the ardour of heated rivalry, another champion, 
who no doubt had been bearing the brunt of battle 
all the while the last-named had been cooling his 
heels in the lane. But he, it seemed, perceived not 
that his bold leap was to land him into a road. 
His clever hunter did, though ; ducked his head as 
he popped round — and shot him, too, into the grave 
of briars. To officiate at the burial, even with the 



THE CURATE IN SPRING. 229 

apparently unseemly pantomime of a double somer- 
sault, who more appropriate than the fearless 
minister— whose good grey was as yet only half tired 
of cutting out the work for weak sinners, and had still 
at least two falls left in him ? The huntsman next 




"and shot him into the grave of briars." 

jumped steadily in, and even in the hurry of the 
moment was cool enough to perceive the advantage 
of opening a gate out. The Colonel,* however, had 
not risen at six that morning and travelled all the way 
from London to ride a four-year-old, for nothing! So 
he nicked in and he nicked out, jumped another rasper 
fifty yards on, and disappeared. So they passed. And 
this is unembellished fact. 

* Col. Pole-Carew. 




CHAPTER XXI. 

DRYING UP ! 

IMPORTANT and valuable a section of the 
year as March may represent to numerous 
interests, I fancy many Master of Hounds, 
owners of horses, and certainly all grooms, would 
gladly see it wiped off the calendar. Huntsmen 
might not ; for they would cheerfully hunt all the 
year round, making no bones of the state of the 
ground, caring nothing for their own, but ready to 
hunt a fox at any and all times as a bulldog is ready 
to fight. Otherwise they, too, would willingly throw 
up the sponge, and surrender the game as not worth 
the candle— when it becomes a matter of a fox 
leaving no more scent on a fallow than a swallow 
that has skimmed it, and when every road or gateway 
insists upon hounds throwing up their heads instanter. 
This is the time (when isn't it, though ?) to thank our 
stars we belong to a grass country, or on the other 
hand to bring appreciation to bear on the woodlands. 
The turf still holds plenty of wet for a scent ; while 
the woods will, of course, remain undried till Mid- 
summer. Even on the grass the huntsman is far 



DRYING UP ! 231 

more directly the motive agent now than at any other 
period. Hounds may rattle on heartily across a mile 
or two of damp turf; but those inevitable "few 
acres for turnips " (the which roots, by the way — or 
their equivalent substitutes — might always be bought 
for half the price from afar) are certain to throw the 
pack into his hand. Reynard, meanwhile, may have 
turned aside from the rough fallow as naturally as a 
bather from sharp shingles ; may have seen the 
shepherd in attendance on his ewes just beyond, or 
may have even mistaken a white mottled cow in the 
sunshine for a Meltonian on the watch. Any of 
these terrors, real or imaginary, would be quite 
sufficient to make him double in his course and so 
leave the ploughed field at the most unexpected point. 
The huntsman, meanwhile, has only probabilities for 
his guidance, sees neither shepherd nor dog, and is 
still less likely to make any mistake as to the identity 
of a good subscriber at this period of fruition. 
Accordingly he carries his hounds quickly round to 
the likely point, and — unless his instinct be of that 
abnormal character to which we are occasionally and 
happily treated — only recovers the line on his last 
and most hopeless effort. (Parenthesis. Oh, what a 
fate must be that of a plough-country huntsman in 
March !) 

At the same time huntsmen can afford to take far 
more, and greater, liberties with their pack than in 



232 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

the earlier months of the season. Every hound now 
knows, or should know, not only his work, but that 
when called he is called to the line of his fox ; there- 
fore, instead of losing heart, he gains fresh hope and 
interest as he finds himself lifted forward out of his 
difficulties. The "silent system " may be well enough, 
and is in theroy at all events quite unassailable. But 
a man who acts rigidly on the silent system would 
assuredly never make a run in droughty March — 
unless you gave him an east wind, a close woodland, 
an open moorland, or a straight fox in a purely grass 
country. 

Friday last, March 21, was an illustration. The 
Ouom had a long and excellent hunting run — all 
praise to the hounds ; but more to the man who 
held them forward, seldom by information, much by 
instinct, but more of necessity quickly grasped. 
Bearing in mind that time lost on the way was never 
to be regained, and that hounds when unable to help 
themselves must be promptly helped, he kept the 
ball rolling at a rate that never allowed his fox 
breathing time — and so made a run which in the 
hands of a dullard would have never even budded. 
Great Dalby-cum-Gartree Hill had for the last time 
been the formula. A vixen had dallied with the pack 
in covert, while a traveller was packing his port- 
manteau for a journey. Sex and deportment guaran- 
teed, he soon ha J the sound and substance of pursuit 



DRYING UP! 233 

in his wake, and we were climbing the Dalby and 
Burrough heights, under a summer sun. How we 
panted up the acclivities — perhaps even striding up 
the steepest ascents on our own unaccustomed and 
unmuscular limbs — caught breath on the Punchbowl, 
or arrived too late to catch aught else than a glimpse 
of hounds and huntsman vanishing beyond the 
farther rim, is but a variation of an oft-painted 
picture — a big sun for the nonce being added to, and 
a haze of yellow light pervading, the usually quiet 
but ragged landscape. The Punchbowl to Ranksboro' 
is an old-fashioned Cottesmore line — grass and gates 
being the prevailing features. But here and there 
with some arid acres of plough came also assistance 
prompt and capable. We were kept galloping ; and, 
if once behind, galloping hard — till we reached Cold 
Overton Hall, which foxes would seem to regard as a 
hare does a well-recognized smeuse. E.g., the first 
little episode of the Cottesmore season was the run of 
a fox through the conservatory, across the drawing- 
room, out over a tableful of Old Dresden, and through 
a pane of plate-glass — not at all because he was beat 
and distressed, but in order that he might put his 
knowledge of locality to the best advantage in 
puzzling his troublesome pursuers. The latter very 
fortunately hit off the point at which Reynard had 
landed out amid fragments of glass, before they could 
make the line good into the drawing-room — or the 



2 34 



THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 



ruin among the china shepherdesses might have 
rivalled the horrors of the sacking of Troy. But to- 
day the stableyard was his thoroughfare — or his 
idyllic wooden horse — to convey him through the 
walls and on to Ranksboro' Gorse. The Cottesmore 
Master was here to see the foreigners fairly enter, and 



uM ihMMM 







"PUZZLING HIS TROUBLESOME PURSUERS." 



to view a fox (I fear one of his own) stealing away 
beyond. But it was not a day to squander time on 
fruitless inquiry. A fresh fox on a dry and fine 
day is as difficult to distinguish by his appearance as 
a fresh egg — the test of eating not always being 
applicable. At any rate this fox asserted himself as 
yet unfit for killing ; and, as he in course of time 



DRYING UP! 235 

betook himself out of the reach of investigation, 
there can be little doubt he proved his point — though 
in a slow hunt by Whissendine and Ashwell his 
opponents did all that was possible to maintain the 
contrary. 

Riding to hounds during the current week has 
been an indulgence to which even those who partook 
of it most readily scarcely denied such terms as 
suicidal, reckless, shortsighted and hardhearted. Hav- 
ing dubbed it with these epithets in the abstract, and 
assumed a virtuous demeanour as they clattered the 
roadside to covert, or sauntered over the blocks of 
iron mud which now form the gateways, they waited 
only to hear hounds open — then at once cast all 
considerations of prudence and humanity to the nor' 
east wind, and banged their poor steeds along at the 
tail of the pack. Young horses would only awake to 
the bitterness of the ordeal when, after landing lightly 
once or twice on to velvety turf, their next wide 
spring perhaps brought them with a loud resounding 
concussion on to ground baked to very stone. The 
cruel shaking might not succeed in cowing them at 
the moment ; but, depend upon it, it would not be 
wiped out of memory for many a day, even should no 
more immediate effect become apparent. The old 
horses would in many instances have none of it — the 
boldest of them whipping round with a vehemence as 
alarming as it was sometimes comical in its results, 



236 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

or, worse still, taking a fall as a deliberate alterna- 
tive. The Quorn on Monday last, March 24th, ran 
more than fairly for twenty minutes from Willoughby 
Gorse ; and a very sizeable little field scampered 
after them to, and beyond, the village of Wysall — 
refusing to recognize that the soil was in anything 
but a pleasantly normal condition till a check ensued, 
not far from Widmerpool. Then, and only then, did 
the peculiarities of soil and temperature seem to 
dawn upon them ; and they mopped their foreheads 
and betook themselves to gates. Little more was 
done that day ; though, with a brace of foxes at 
the Curate, probably only the ill luck of hounds 
hitting first upon the vixen robbed them of a run, 
perhaps of another spin across the Vale. It was not 
difficult, though, to extract a large amount of enjoy- 
ment even from that brief midday hunt. We take 
our pleasure now much as amid the more playful 
episodes of cubhunting (not the early mob-him-and- 
taste-him period) — cantering quietly from gate to 
gap, absolved at last from all shame in our cowardice, 
and watching hounds, like Osman Digna does his 
fighting men, from afar— or, as we prefer to term 
it in our irreverence for those who lived and rode 
before the world seemed made only for us, " like good 
old-fashioned sportsmen." There seemed to be quite 
a fair scent, too, on Monday — as indeed there has 
been throughout the week, since the dry wind has 



DRYING UP ! 237 

shifted round from hot sou'-west to chilly nor'-east. 
The exigencies of spring have on recent occasions 
introduced us to a mixed pack — instead of its being 
composed as usual almost exclusively of one sex or 
the other. In my comparatively worthless opinion 
this is a great improvement, in most ways except 
appearance. The soundest and most humorous of 
all judges of hunting advocated " a few couple of 
dogs to correct the frivolity of the bitches." Even 
this much is seldom granted — a couple or two of 
little dogs alone being told off to the lady pack, 
in the same way that a similar number of overgrown 
bitches are sent out with the dog pack. I would go 
farther than this ; and run about an equal number of 
either sex. If only as a matter of music, the result 
would be welcome. But beyond this, I believe the 
leading faults of each would be noticeably corrected. 
(I am by no means alluding to any particular pack 
of hounds.) The ladies by themselves, as every tyro 
knows, flash very readily over the line, even on a hot 
scent — either from over anxiety or from inborn 
jealousy one of another. On the other hand, they 
are much more ready to swing to their huntsman, 
make their own cast infinitely quicker, and in a run 
will extract more pace out of indifferent material. 
The dogs by themselves, again, are often headstrong, 
frequently careless, and easily discouraged ; they do 
not enjoy a big field, and the aspersion has even been 



238 THE BEST SEASON ON RECORD. 

cast upon them that " they don't like being jumped 
upon." Natural as this objection on their part would 
seem to be, it is in sober reality a decided drawback — 
as much so as in the case of a steeplechase lider, who 
has taken to looking over his shoulder as he comes to 
his fences. Neither the one nor the other cares to go 
through his horses. Between the lady pack and their 
brothers, the one for choice — give me the former, 
especially among the thick fences and crowded fields 
of the midlands. But better still, I believe, if we 
could see the two worked together in about equal 
proportion. The ladies would be steadier ; the dogs 
would be quicker, handier, and sharper ; the cry 
would be merry and easily heard ; and we should kill 
more foxes. 

The retirement of Mr. Coupland is a loss to the 
Quorn country that has for some time been imminent, 
but only now becomes an accomplished, and very 
regrettable, fact. For fourteen years Mr. Coupland 
has held the reins, and handled them with unrivalled 
tact and success — leaving us under an obligation that 
is heartily and universally recognized. A successor 
has now come forward in the person of Lord 
Manners ; who at the Hunt meeting on Saturday 
last was elected with glad acclamation. As a keen 
foxhunter, bold rider, and popular county gentleman 
the new Master is hopefully welcomed both by the 
members of the Hunt and by the farmers ; and with 



DRYING UP ! 



^39 



all details of the country left in excellent working 
order by Mr. Coupland, I fancy he has no difficult — 
but a very enviable — task before him. 




no.MK ! 



THE END. 



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there is no limit to it. 

If we think of soap as a means of clean- 
liness only, even then PB AES' SOAP 
is a matter of course. It is the only soap 
that is all soap and nothing but soap— no 
free fat nor. free alkali in it. 

* 

But what does cleanliness lead to ? It 
leads to a wholesome body and mind j to 
clean thoughts ; to the habit of health ; to 
manly and womanly beauty. 

[ PE AES' SOAP has to do with the 
wrinkles of age — we are forming them 
now If life is a pleasure, the wrinkles will 
take a cheerful turn when they come ; if a 
burden,, a sad one. The soap that frees us 
from humors and pimples brings a lifeful of 
happiness. Wrinkles will come; let us 
give them the cheerful turn. 

Virtue and wisdom and beauty are only 
the habit of happiness. 

CIVILIZATION by soap, pure soap, 
PB AES' SOAP, that has no alkali in it- 
nothing but soap— is more than skin-deep.